Georgia’s smoking law isn’t doing its job, according to Michael Eriksen, dean of Georgia State’s School of Public Health.
“The issue for Georgia State students is that the law isn’t…protecting nonsmokers from being exposed to secondhand smoke when they go out to a bar or restaurant,” Eriksen said. “Non-smokers have a right not to be forced to breathe other people’s smoke.”
The Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005 was ratified to minimize uninvited secondhand smoke, according to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. However, the number of bars and restaurants that allow smoking has risen in Georgia, according to the university’s school of public health.
Although the 2005 law enacted regulations to reduce youth tobacco smoke inhalation, Georgia State’s findings suggest more restaurants owners are looking in the other direction when smoke is blown around minors. Eriksen said some restaurant management might be exploiting cracks in the legal paperwork.
“Our research suggests that owners and managers of some establishments took a close look at the law and figured out how to take advantage of loopholes,” he said.
Eriksen said a lot of bars and restaurants are granted exceptions to the law by offering a patio seating option. However, Georgia State students and staff fall under stricter jurisdiction.
“At Georgia State University, we have our own policy which exceeds the state law,” he said. “There is no tobacco use whatsoever allowed on campus.”
Eriksen said he believes restaurants and bars should be totally smoke-free in Georgia and the current legislation isn’t making strides in that direction.
“We live in one of only 15 states that have adopted smoke-free laws with these kinds of loopholes,” he said. “Children and other non-smokers in Georgia really aren’t protected unless we have laws that say no smoking in bars and restaurants. Period.”
However, Georgia State senior Roddas Workneh said she believes a 100 percent ban would be excessive and she understands the benefits that businesses reap when they allow smoking.
“I think it should be up to the discretion of the establishment,” she said. “Some restaurants thrive [from offering smoking seating] because it helps bring in their target demographic, whether that be a younger, more eclectic crowd or simply casual dining among smokers.”
Eriksen and a team of researchers from the university’s School of Public Health published their findings in “Changes in Georgia Restaurant and Bar Smoking Policies From 2006 to 2012” in a scientific journal with the Center for Disease Control, according to a Georgia State news release.