A ban on smoking and vaping inside nearly all bars and restaurants was passed by the Atlanta City Council July 1. The ban, which also covers Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is scheduled to take effect Jan. 2, 2020.
The new ordinance tightens existing laws that already restricted smoking inside most places of business, but had exemptions for private rooms or if they exclude customers or workers who are under 18. Those exemptions will go away.
Outdoor smoking at bars and restaurants will still be allowed, but not near windows and doors. There is also an exemption that applies to cigar lounges, hookah bars and other tobacco-focused businesses.
For violations of the smoking and vaping bans, the city will fine the owners or operators of spaces $100 for a first violation and $200 for each additional offense within one year.
The intent of the smoking ban is to prevent workers and customers from being exposed to the many health hazards of smoking without warning or practical choice. The ordinance was lobbied for by Smoke-Free Atlanta, a coalition of such organizations as the Atlanta-headquartered American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association.
The ordinance was introduced by City Councilmembers Matt Westmoreland and Andre Dickens. In a written statement, Westmoreland said he’s proud that Atlanta “has joined every other major American city in adopting a comprehensive ‘Smoke-Free’ ordinance.”
“I’m proud that we worked with a broad and diverse group of stakeholders on how to both improve quality of life while working to protect small businesses like cigar bars and hookah lounges… [I] think this process was a great example of protecting public health, working with small businesses, and highlighting the danger to our teens of e-smoking,” Westmoreland said.
The tightening of the rules had two “no” votes from Buckhead-area Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook.
Matzigkeit said he does not personally like smoking and had no problem with the city banning it on government property, but he objected to telling private businesses what to do.
“To me, as a small business owner, I believe customers should be the ones to tell owners how to run the business, not the government…,” said Matzigkeit. He noted the owners of the Vortex Bar and Grill locations in Little Five Points and Midtown conducted a large survey of their customers about smoking and already decided to ban it inside the businesses based on the feedback.
The Perimeter Center cities of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs all have local smoking ordinances on the books, none of which are as tough as the new Atlanta restrictions. All three of those cities said earlier this year that they are not considering any changes to their laws.
Update: This story has been updated with comments from City Councilmembers Matt Westmoreland and J.P. Matzigkeit.