On Jan. 13, a Chatham County Commissioner’s meeting decided that the county would not follow in the footsteps of Savannah’s anti-smoking bans.
The meeting eliminated aspects of the newly created smoking bans that prohibited smoking in private clubs and tobacco shops, as well as bars that only allow entry of those over 21.
The decision came with a 5-4 vote.
Savannah enacted its smoking bans at the onset of 2011. But that ban did not stretch to the unincorporated areas of Chatham County.
Chatham’s recent decision shows that the county may not see entirely eye-to-eye with Savannah.
The recent smoking bans are attempting to fill gaps left by the 2005 Georgia Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces and workplaces, but allows smoking in restaurants and bars not employing people under 18.
Savannah is not alone in their institution of smoking bans.
Many major cities — the majority being northern — such as New York and Chicago, prohibit smoking in nearly all public places. And comprehensive smoke-free laws have already been passed in 27 states.
The county’s rejected bans have not caused too much unrest among Savannah bars and tobacco shops. Jefferson O’Neil, bartender and manager of Abe’s on Lincoln, has found positives to the ban.
“With more people having to stand outside, it draws attention to the place.”
Some might think hookah lounges, which have become very popular downtown, should have taken a hard hit from the Savannah bans. The lounges can still sell tobacco shisha, but only the smoking of non-tobacco shisha can take place in the lounges.
“Most people will come in and ask if we have tobacco shisha,” said Christine Tuso, a waitress at The Mirage, a hookah lounge on Broughton Street. “When we answer no, sometimes they leave but most of the time they stay.”
Healthy Savannah, the organization responsible for much of the ban’s backing, is very committed in their aim for smoking cessation, and there remains a threat that more encroaching smoking bans could eventually move through Savannah commissions.
Adam, a manager of the downtown Savannah tobacco shop Red Light Tobacco on E. Congress Street, said that there is already talk going on about entirely eliminating the distribution of menthol cigarettes in coming years.
More extreme prohibition-type bans on smoking could limit Americans’ freedom of choice on what has historically been an economically important and legal product.
According to Adam, the best-case scenario would have stricter limits on tobacco smoking lead to a loosened grip on the legalization of marijuana, a less harmful substance with proven medical capabilities.
“But that’s only a hope,” Adam said.
Contact Santino Sini.
Editor’s note: Red Light Tobacco’s company policy prohibited the release of employee’s last names.