Public Health Organizations Urge County Commission to Oppose Harmful Tobacco Exemption That Would Exacerbate Health Inequities Among Black Americans

Threatening Augusta’s Standing as a Health Leader and Citing Impact of Secondhand Smoke on Communities of Color

August 3, 2021

AUGUSTA, GA — August 2, 2021 — Tomorrow, the Augusta-Richond County Commission will vote on a proposed amendment to the county’s smoke-free ordinance to allow cigar smoking in certain indoor spaces, despite the motion failing in committee last week.

A coalition of local and national public health groups are urging county commissioners to oppose the amendment, citing the crucial role strong, comprehensive smoke-free laws play in improving public health.

The following statement is on behalf of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights in reaction.

“On behalf of Augusta residents, workers and visitors, our organizations urge county commissioners to protect the integrity of the popular and effective smoke-free ordinance by opposing the proposed amendment to create a loophole for cigar bars.

“If this past year has reiterated anything, it is the immense importance of respitory health and the crucial role public health policy plays. This is the moment to preserve strong public health laws like Augusta’s smoke-free ordinance, not roll back such effective protections.

“Since 2018, the county’s smoke-free policy has greatly improved community health and protected residents and visitors against secondhand smoke, setting a statewide model for other communities across Georgia to follow suit, including Atlanta.”

“Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air and exemptions to the lifesaving law would risk the immense progress Augusta has made in public health as a result of its strong smoke-free ordinance – placing the health of the community and workers, many of who have worked on the frontlines of the pandemic, in jeopardy.”

“The science is clear: comprehensive smoke-free laws reduce hospitalizations for smoking-related illnesses and set an example for the next generation by leading to fewer children and teens beginning to smoke. Such lifesaving policy is especially important in diverse communities like Augusta as Black Americans continue to experience higher death rates from tobacco-related causes and are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to be exposed to secondhand smoke.

“Our organizations have seen this tactic play out all too well. Once cigar bars are exempt, there is nothing to stop other bars from becoming cigar bars and weakening such laws comes from the predatory nature of Big Tobacco to target communities of color.

“We strongly urge county commissioners to protect the health of all workers, visitors and residents and reject the harmful amendment once and for all.”

Cigars contain the same addictive, toxic and carcinogenic compounds found in cigarettes and are not a safe alternative to combustible cigarettes. Cigar smoking can cause cancers of the lung, oral cavity, larynx and esophagus.

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