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Smoking ban to go back to Senate

By Justin Boron

Like many sports bar owners in the state, Hyonmi Tak is hesitantly embracing the possibility of bumping up the minimum age at the Sports Cafe in Jonesboro so her business can squeeze into one of the several exemptions in the statewide smoking ban legislation expected to pass this year.

With a large majority of smoking customers, she said she may need to give up on the few families that come in to better accommodate her regular customers, who are older than 18.

"This is a sports bar, so mainly we deal with mostly adults," Tak said.

Initially crafted to ban smoking in nearly all public places, the public health bill has been steadily weakened in the Georgia House to give exceptions to establishments like bars where smoking is more socially accepted by the adults that frequent them.

The House sent the bill back to the Senate Tuesday with the changes prompted by some resistance from lawmakers loyal to the idea of an unintrusive government.

"It is not the core function of government to control the lives of free people at dinner," said Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock. "We are invited to this Capitol as stewards, not as nannies."

Rebecca Cole, 56, of Jonesboro agreed with Byrd, saying the proposed ban would be an infringement on her rights.

"They're pushing too far," she said. "The next thing, they're going to tell you, you can't smoke in your car."

Despite the accusations of government intrusion, much of the business community has taken a liking to the idea, especially since the ban would span the entire state and keep a level playing field for competition.

For Gail Glancy, 56, owner of Butch's Family Restaurant, the crowded smoke free section of her old fashioned diner on Jonesboro Road, is a sign that non-smokers have grown as a group.

"(The ban) would be nice because I need more space for them," she said.

Many waitresses, who typically spend eight to 10 hours serving, also look forward to the less smoky tables, said Elva Quintana, 47, of Jonesboro.

"It bothers my eyes and I don't like the smell of it," said the Rocky's Pizza and Subs waitress. "It would bother me if I was eating and people were smoking at the same time."

Waffle House, which has 10 locations in Clayton County, also supports the bill.

"The smoking ban does not pose a threat to our restaurants, said Charnae Knight, a spokeswoman for the chain of diners. "We currently have restaurants located in jurisdictions that have enacted a comprehensive smoke-free law and what we've seen from that is that the ban will not hurt our business."

If the smoking bill passes, Georgia would be one of 11 states in the country that have some form of statewide ban.

In four of those states, smoking is still permitted in bars.

But even in some cities where more stringent smoking bans have been imposed, business has actually improved.

A Zagat survey in New York, where the ban was bitterly resisted, cites a rises in customer approval of restaurants after the ban took effect.

Georgia's proposed bill would also allow smoking in the specially designated sections of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, hotel rooms specially designated for smoking, retail tobacco stores, private military clubs, and business offices with less than 10 employees or open only by appointment.

- The Associated Press contributed to this story.