Wednesday, July 13, 2005

More Problems with Georgia Smoking Law; Confusion and Delay Abound

An inconsistency in the Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005 pointed out by The Rest of the Story is causing confusion and delay in the implementation of the state's new smoking law, which went into effect on July 1. The provision in question is the law's unequal treatment of establishments that allow children, compared to those which allow only adults: restaurants that do not allow minors may allow smoking, while those which permit minors may not allow smoking (except in enclosed, separately ventilated areas). The problem is that apparently, a large number of restaurants that allow children during daytime hours are designating themselves as adult-only during night hours, and allowing smoking at such times.

A decision on whether such an interpretation of the state law is reasonable rests initially with the state's Department of Human Resources, which is charged with enforcing the law. At least one state Senator has stated that he thinks such an interpretation may be workable. But even if the state decides to interpret the law not to allow smoking in restaurants during certain hours when minors are excluded, the option of taking this issue to court remains for restaurant owners.

The Rest of the Story

This is exactly the kind of confusion that public health advocates can expect when they support a law that is so inconsistent that it sets widely differing standards for different types of establishments and makes exclusions based on rather arbitrary (i.e., not health-related) considerations.

It also demonstrates the problems with enacting a state law that creates a widely unlevel playing field for different types of establishments. Restaurants are trying to re-define themselves, within the language of the law, in such a way so that they need not comply with the smoke-free provisions of the law. This is a natural and expected consequence of applying the law unequally to different types of establishments, especially based on criteria that have nothing to do with health protection.

I reiterate what I said in my original post on this issue: If secondhand smoke is as serious a health hazard as public health advocates in Georgia allege, then there is no public health justification for supporting a law that provides protection to only a segment of the population, and that in choosing the segment to be protected, discriminates based on the age of the patrons visiting the establishment. If it is as hazardous as alleged, then ban smoking across the board - create a level playing field for all restaurants. If not, then stop creating such ridiculous impositions on restaurant owners where they are forced to change the nature of their establishments in order to be able to continue to allow smoking.

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