About Rome’s proposed smoking ban and a divided response. At issue: Documented health concerns and ‘personal rights’ in a year where parking restrictions, a juvenile curfew and distracted driving laws continue to fuel debate.

About Rome’s proposed smoking ban and a divided response. At issue: Documented health concerns and ‘personal rights’ in a year where parking restrictions, a juvenile curfew and distracted driving laws continue to fuel debate.

From the city of Rome’s Facebook page. Broad Street, 200 block.

Please see our sidebar with survey results.

Once again, the heart of Rome — Broad Street and the downtown community — is the epicenter of controversy. This time, it is a concentrated push by members of the medical community to further restrict smoking in the “Central Business District” as well as retail centers, playgrounds and outdoor events. Supporters cite well-documented health issues they deal with daily — many of them potentially fatal.

But there’s push back from restaurant owners and others concerned about the impact on their employers and a share of their customers. While respectful of the clout of those standing with the Breatheasy Rome campaign, they’re likewise worried about a new round of government oversight when the current ordinance restricting smokers goes largely unenforced.

What’s more, there are questions of who should be enforcing smoking restrictions: law enforcement or business owners/operators. That argument repeats concerns about the recently approved parking restrictions in downtown Rome. One of the big issues: If business owners ensured their employees parked off Broad and in the decks, there would be more spaces for customers.

As for the enhanced smoking ban, city committees, including the Downtown Development Authority, are studying careful responses in search of compromise.

Supporters and opponents both spoke at Rome’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday and the debate is far from finished. We can assure you it carried well into the evening in a series of phone calls and texts. The question is what happens next.

As that debate continues, we offer these:

  • With 1,290 people having responded to a city survey on public smoking — 400 of whom offered additional commentary — the city has released the results. Please see our sidebar feature on those numbers. Survey.
  • A delay in any formal actions or readings on the proposal until all sides can stitch together a compromise, perhaps with built-in layers of enactment over five years.
  • Consideration of a blanket smoking prohibition on top of other social or community issues. The divisive downtown parking ordinance — despite a City Commission vote — already splits Broad Street interests. It was followed by the 16-and-under juvenile curfew that is just beginning to sink in for some. And while a statewide law — again intended to save lives — enforcement of the distracted driving law restricting smart phone and tablet use by drivers continues to simmer.

Whatever the reason or cause or intention, it’s all beginning to add up with growing concerns about what’s next.

BACKGROUND: 

Summary of the Breatheasy Rome proposal as it stands today:

“The goal of Rome’s Smokefree Air Ordinance is to protect workers and the public from involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke.

“Much of the ordinance is already in effect under The Georgia Smokefree Air Act as well as local smoking and sidewalk café ordinances. If passed, smoking would continue to be prohibited within 25 feet outside entrances, operable windows and ventilation systems of enclosed areas  Breatheasy Rome where smoking is prohibited and within 25 feet of outdoor seating or serving areas of restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities.

“Smoking would be prohibited in shopping malls, parking structures, outdoor events, playgrounds, and service lines – including drive-through banking and fast food restaurants. (This protects those who must work in the windows of these establishments.) Smoking would also be prohibited in the Central Business District (Downtown Rome from Riverside Parkway to the Oostanaula River to the South Broad Bridge to Second Street).”

The original media release from Breatheasy:

Breatheasy Rome is a group of concerned citizens including the healthcare community in Floyd
County, specifically the Rome Floyd Cancer Initiative, the Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer
Coalition, the Floyd County Health Department, Floyd Medical Center, Harbin Clinic, Redmond
Regional Medical Center, Rome Radiology, and Southeastern Pathology, with support from the
American Lung Association, The American Cancer Society, the American Nonsmokers Rights
Foundation, and the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Breatheasy Rome has sought to update Rome’s smoke-free ordinance modeled after policy which
is used nationwide by the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, in
addition to other local organizations and governments with adjustments specific to Rome,
Georgia. Beyond the Georgia Smokefree Air Act enacted in 2005, smoking ordinances have
been passed in other cities including Savannah (2010), Augusta (2018) and Canton (2018)
Georgia.

These laws aim to reduce citizen’s exposure to second-hand smoke and vapor, and
their associated risks. Tobacco use, particularly smoking, is the leading cause of death in the
United States. Eliminating smoking in public will reduce the number of tobacco-related illnesses
and deaths, which number more than 11,000 each year in Georgia alone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), second-hand smoke is estimated to kill over
41,000 Americans per year. Second-hand smoke is a mixture of the smoke/vapor exhaled from
the lungs of smokers, and the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, pipe or
vaping device. This mixture contains more than 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are
known to cause cancer in humans and animals.

Exposure to second-hand smoke/vapor can contribute to or cause severe health problems in both smokers and non-smokers, including
cancer, emphysema, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), stroke and asthma.
Second-hand smoke exposure during pregnancy has been associated with low birth weight, early
delivery, learning/behavioral deficiencies in children, and SIDS. Second-hand smoke is also one
of the most common asthma triggers and can lead to more frequent and more severe asthma
attacks in children.

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke and
vapor as their brains are still forming and the introduction of nicotine causes the brain’s nicotine
receptors to increase in number, thus increasing the need of more and more nicotine leading to
addiction. This ordinance provides cleaner and safer environments for us to live, work, and play.

The mayor and city commission have a duty in promulgating effective laws to protect the health,
safety and welfare of its citizens as well as visitors to the city. It is the intention of the Smokefree
Air Ordinance to prohibit smoking in public places and the workplace, including particular
prohibitions which will help protect children and nonsmoking adults from the health hazards
presented by exposure to second-hand smoke, to guarantee the right of nonsmokers to breathe
smokefree air, and to recognize that the need to breathe smokefree air shall have priority over the
desire to smoke.

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. The goal of Rome’s Smokefree Air
Ordinance is to protect workers and the public from involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke.

Much of the ordinance is already in effect under The Georgia Smokefree Air Act as well as local
smoking and sidewalk café ordinances. If passed, smoking would continue to be prohibited
within 25 feet outside entrances, operable windows and ventilation systems of enclosed areas
Breatheasy Rome where smoking is prohibited and within 25 feet of outdoor seating or serving areas of restaurants,
bars and entertainment facilities.

Smoking would be prohibited in shopping malls, parking structures, outdoor events, playgrounds, and service lines – including drive-through banking and
fast food restaurants. (This protects those who must work in the windows of these
establishments.) Smoking would also be prohibited in the Central Business District (Downtown
Rome from Riverside Parkway to the Oostanaula River to the South Broad Bridge to Second
Street).

Smoking is allowed in private residences unless used as a childcare, adult daycare, or health
facility. It is allowed in private vehicles except on school properties or in service lines. It is also
allowed in existing retail tobacco stores and existing retail vaping stores. Cigars, pipes, ecigarettes,
vaping devices, JUULs and hookah pipes have the same restrictions as cigarettes
under this ordinance.

This ordinance also has fines and penalties attached, both for smokers and businesses which
allow smoking to take place. For smokers, the fine is $50 for a first violation and up to $250 for
additional violations. For the businesses, the fine is $100 for the first violation, up to $500 for
subsequent violations. If a business continues to allow smoking in their facility, they will risk
suspension or revocation of any permit or license issued to the person/business for the premises
on which the violation occurred.

Following passage of the Ordinance, a Citizens Guide will be published and distributed in the
City of Rome with full details, as well as an Enforcement Guide for Businesses. The Georgia
Department of Public Health and the Rome Floyd Cancer Initiative will help to distribute the
Georgia Tobacco Quitline information and materials for those individuals wishing to stop
smoking.

There will be a grace period until January 1, 2019 during which warnings will be
issued, the Ordinance will be publicized, and educational materials will be distributed.

For more information contact Gena Agnew at the Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition
at gagnew@nwgacancer.org or 706-291-9998.

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