Statewide Smoking Ban Q&A

August 1, 2005

Originally appeared in the August 2005 edition of Georgia's Cities.

In recent years, public health agencies have presented compelling evidence to suggest that secondhand smoke causes significant health risks, particularly for children. Exposure to secondhand smoke has been shown to cause severe health problems in smokers and non-smokers including cancer, emphysema and asthma. The Georgia Department of Human Resources estimates that there are approximately 11,000 tobacco-related deaths in Georgia each year.

In an effort to provide healthy, smoke-free environments to live, work and play, local governments across Georgia have responded by adopting ordinances that limit or prohibit smoking in public areas. Since 1995, 26 local governments have adopted such ordinances. During the 2005 legislative session, the state got into the act with the passage SB90, the statewide smoking ban. Governor Sonny Perdue signed the bill in May, and the Georgia Smoke Free Air Act went into effect on July 1.

What are the basic provisions of the new Smoke Free Air Act?
The act (O.C.G.A. 31-12A-1) prohibits smoking in most indoor public places, including state and local government buildings and enclosed areas within places of employment, including (but not limited to) auditoriums, classrooms, conference and meeting rooms, private offices, elevators, hallways, medical facilities, cafeterias, employee lounges, stairs, and restrooms.

What areas are exempt from the smoking ban?
The act exempts private residences, unless they are used as a licensed child care, adult day-care or health care facility. Other exemptions include designated guest rooms in hotels (up to 20 percent of rooms can be designated as smoking rooms); retail tobacco stores; long-term care facilities; outdoor areas of places of employment; smoking areas in international airports; employee break rooms in workplaces, provided they have separate ventilation systems that exhaust directly to the outside; businesses that are only open to the public by appointment (reception areas must remain smoke-free); private clubs, military officer clubs, and noncommissioned officer clubs.

Bars and restaurants that do not employ or allow access to patrons who are under the age of 18 may allow smoking, but they are required to post a sign at every entrance to indicate that smoking is permitted. Private, enclosed rooms in restaurants and bars may also allow smoking if they have a separate heating and air conditioning system and if air is exhausted directly to the outside of the building.

What is the penalty for violating the smoking ban, and who is responsible for enforcing it?
Individuals violating the smoking ban can be charged with a misdemeanor and if convicted, can be fined from $100 to $500. Businesses cannot be charged for violating the law. Local law enforcement agencies, the Georgia Department of Human Resources and county boards of health are empowered to enforce compliance with the new law, and may enter and inspect any business or establishment to insure that employees and customers are complying with the act. Prosecutions of the state law must go through state or superior court. However, violations of more restrictive municipal ordinances can be brought in municipal court.

Does the state law supercede local smoking ordinances?
The state ban does not take precedence over local ordinances that are more restrictive than or not in conflict with state law. Prior to the enactment of the statewide ban, cities and counties across the state implemented local ordinances that were tailored to address their local needs. Currently, 26 local governments have a smoking ban in place, or are considering adopting an ordinance to address this issue.

Where can I find more information about the Georgia Smokefree Air Act?
The text of the Act (SB90) can be found on the General Assembly website. To educate the public about the new state law, the Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health has initiated an education program around the "Be Smokefree" component of DHR's statewide "Live Healthy Georgia" campaign. For more information about the Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005, call the Division of Public Health at 404-657-3378 or send an e-mail.

Where can I find copies of local ordinances that have been adopted by cities in Georgia?
Several municipal ordinances are available on the Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention web site, or city officials may contact Kelly Shields of the GMA staff at (678) 686-6204. Also, DHR has announced that local and state public health staff will work with communities that already have smoking ordinances and conduct site visits to assist local communities in complying with the new law. Cities interested in adopting local ordinances are urged to work with their city attorney to insure that the ordinance is not in conflict with state law.