Leading Public Health Groups Voice Legal Concerns for Augusta if Cigar Lounge Amendment Becomes Law

Citing How Change Could Lead to Costly Litigation for the County--

Today, the Augusta-Richmond County Commission will again meet to discuss two more amendments related to weakening the county’s smoke-free ordinance to allow smoking in certain indoor spaces. Leading public health organizations, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, the American Lung Association, American Heart Association and the Center for Black Health and Equity, oppose amending the smoke-free ordinance because of the health consequences, but this change could lead to costly litigation for the county.

During the commission meeting last week, multiple commissioners brought up legal concerns during the course of the debate. 

According to this letter from the Public Health Law Center, “Exemptions in public health laws, such as smoke free ordinances, can draw litigation challenges for treating one group of people or businesses differently than others.” 

The letter goes on to read that “Legal challenges to smoke free laws can be expensive and time-consuming to address, regardless of outcome.” In fact, the city of Lexington, Kentucky has spent more that $330,000 in legal fees related to similar smoke-free exemptions. The Public Health Law Center does not provide legal representation or advice, and it is not authorized to practice law in Georgia.

As a result, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and the Center for Black Health and Equity released this statement: 

“Our organizations have expressed serious concerns about the health consequences of weakening Augusta’s smoke-free law, and this new letter shows that this move could have significant financial implications as well. 

“If this amendment moves forward, it will expose workers and the public to the deadly dangers of secondhand smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and secondhand smoke kills an estimated 41,000 Americans per year. It is also a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, and can cause or make worse a wide range of damaging health effects including respiratory infections and diseases such as asthma.

“Allowing cigar bars will also send youth the false message that smoking is acceptable as an adult and it will undermine our current law that helps normalize smoke-free environments. 

“We urge Commissioners to vote no on any amendments that will result in weakening Augusta’s smoke-free law.”

About ACS CAN at 20 
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) makes cancer a top priority for policymakers at every level of government. ACS CAN empowers volunteers across the country to make their voices heard to influence evidence-based public policy change that saves lives. We believe everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer. Since 2001, as the American Cancer Society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, ACS CAN has successfully advocated for billions of dollars in cancer research funding, expanded access to quality affordable health care, and made workplaces, including restaurants and bars, smoke-free. As we mark our 20th anniversary, we’re more determined than ever to stand together with our volunteers and save more lives from cancer. Join the fight by visiting www.fightcancer.org. 

About Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights  
Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is the leading national lobbying organization (501 (c) 4) dedicated to nonsmokers' rights, taking on the tobacco industry at all levels of government, protecting nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke, and preventing tobacco addiction among youth.

About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

For more information, contact:

Jill Dale
312-940-7001
[email protected]

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