Local Organization Makes Effort To Ban Smoking In Augusta Restaurants

Photo of a cigarette near an ash tray
Photo of a cigarette near an ash tray

When it comes to smoking – it's a personal choice of whether or not you want to do it or be around it.  But in Augusta, when it comes to being around it – you don't have one.  Now one local organization is trying to promote the ordinance that some commissioners don't want.

It's a request that's been brought before commissioners once before – but now the Breathe Easy Augusta Coalition is upping the ante – creating TV commercials to gain more support in their efforts to ban smoking in downtown establishments.

Jeremy LaFontaine is the owner of Joe's Underground in Downtown Augusta. Since he took over in January, the first thing he did was make his restaurant smoke-free.

“I felt like it was costing us business. We weren't able to book bands, it was so smokey.  A lot of people just chose not to come,” said Jeremy LaFontaine, Owner of Joe's Underground Café.  

BreathEasy Augusta Coalition Chair, Jennifer Anderson, says it's time for more downtown business owners to follow his lead.

“We're concerned about people who have to work in a smoky environment,”  said Jennifer Anderson, Chair of the BreathEasy Augusta Coalition.  “And of course patrons, I mean we are concerned about the health of our community.”

In fact, she says she's so concerned that last year her coalition proposed commissioners make all establishments in the Garden City smoke-free.  That request?  Denied.

“I'm not for government interference or government telling the private sector what to do,” said Augusta Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who said “no” once and he'll do it again.

“For me, it's a rights issue. It's hard for me to change my vote unless someone brings forward facts or the people that I represent comes up with a different solution,” said Guilfoyle.

“We mandate for public health cooking our food at a certain temperature, and clean water, and washing your hands and this is really the same thing,” said Anderson.  “I mean, each and every one of us breathe air, and we feel like it should be clean air if it's in a work environment.”

“We've not had to change the air filters quite as much as we used to have to,” said LaFontaine. “It actually saves on electricity, the coolers, the air conditioners don't have to work as hard.”

The decision ultimately lies in the hands of Augusta Commissioners, but LaFontaine says he's already made his, and so far – so good. “I don't want people to feel like there's anything wrong with smoking.  We just want them to do it outside,” he said. “Each day we just put the buckets outside and that way they can just step out the door and have a cigarette, come back in, finish their drink and hang out and have a good time.”

The coalition is joining with Joe's Underground to host a “Smoke-Free Bar and Restaurant Tour” during the next First Friday which will be held June 7th.  To learn more, click here.

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