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Walker Garrett: Clearing the Air

There are two sides to every pancake, no matter how you slice it. Mentors in politics and business have repeated that old saying to me for as long as I can remember.

In politics, many times that means listening to both sides of an argument and then making the best decision you can to represent your constituents.

A fair compromise often means neither side is completely happy, and the compromise I proposed with additional exemptions and changes to the original ordinance proposed by Breathe Easy Columbus sparked quite a reaction.

Let me clear the air and say that the changes I proposed have been in response to concerns raised by local small business owners, and residents of my district.

Columbus Council member Walker Garrett, right, offers a compromise on smoking issue.

Constituents who have reached out to me at meetings, on the phone, and through social media have said they oppose a 100 percent smoke free ordinance that doesn’t allow adult consumers to choose to patronize a bar or restaurant that allows smoking.

I’m hearing from smokers and non-smokers alike that a complete ban on smoking in private establishments places too heavy a burden on business owners, and exercises too much control over citizens.

I respect the opinion of the Breath Easy members but I cannot support an exemption free ordinance. The proposal I brought forward will improve our city atmosphere, getting smoking off of public sidewalks, parks, and other right-of-ways, without preventing the few businesses that allow smoking to continue, and without preventing adults who wish to patronize these businesses to also continue.

Free will and the free market has already significantly reduced the number of smokers in the United States through health education and social peer pressure, reducing in turn the number of businesses that allow smoking.

Only one restaurant in Columbus allows smoking and it has a separate, ventilated section. Out of a few hundred establishments with liquor licenses, fewer than 30 bars allow smoking.

I can assure you, the few times I have been to those establishments, they are catering to their customers as most people smoked there. I generally exercise my right to dine in smoke-free establishments.

I understand citizens wish to be free from involuntary exposure to smoke, so my compromise ordinance exempts private places where you as an individual choose to be but keeps restrictions on smoking in public rights of ways like sidewalks

The Breathe Easy organization says they cannot support the ordinance in its current compromise form. They want a 100 percent indoor smoke free ordinance or no support will be given.

I agree 100 percent with Breathe Easy Columbus. I don’t like smoke blown in my face. That clouds your vision. Their campaign lobbying Columbus Council has blown smoke in the faces of Council members and voters, with misleading facts, surveys, and downright misrepresentation.

Breathe Easy proposed an ordinance they said Savannah passed, but left out that Savannah received push back from the business community and changes have been made to allow smoking on restaurant patios and address other issues raised in Columbus as well.

The economic study cited by Breathe Easy does not show conclusively that the ban on smoking in private businesses didn’t harm these companies, and aggregated revenue for smoke-free Savannah with the rest of Chatham County, so that smokers who changed from Savannah bars and restaurants to those outside the city limits were not accounted as lost revenue to Savannah businesses.

Finally, a survey paid for by Breathe Easy Columbus spoke only of smoking in public places without mentioning that Breathe Easy seeks to prevent smoking in privately-owned business. It also asked about “forcing” employees of these bars and restaurants to be exposed to second-hand smoke. I have not heard from a single employee that this is a problem, but several did tell me they knew smoking was allowed in their workplace, and they chose to work there anyway.

Having heard from constituents who are genuinely concerned about exposure to second-hand smoke in public areas, like our sidewalks, I agree that we should take this important step in providing the smoke-free public environment we want.

But having also heard from businesses that would be impacted, and from consumers who prefer to have a choice, I’ve proposed a common-sense solution that protects our citizens from unwanted second-hand smoke, while preserving options for private businesses and for those who choose to patronize them.

(Walker Garrett is a member of Columbus Council and is an attorney with The Finley Firm.)
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Nadine Moore

    July 2, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    The population of people who are meeting in each other’s home to eat, drink, smoke, play pool and watch the game is growing. LESS hassle.

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