Savannah, Georgia – Today’s sanctuary for and one of the last bastions of camaraderie, friendship and sociability – the corner cigar store – could become history along with many other businesses in Savannah if City Council has its way, says the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association.
The current proposal would eliminate exemptions in the Georgia state law by making all workplaces smoke-free. This includes all indoor and outdoor areas of bars, restaurants, private clubs and other businesses, including cigar stores and within 20 feet from the entrance to any such workplace.
The IPCPR, not considered ‘big tobacco’, is comprised of more than 2,000 retailers, manufacturers and distributors of premium cigars, tobacco and related accoutrements. The group is standing up for small, family-owned businesses whose right it is to determine for themselves whether or not to allow smoking on their premises. Three of Savannah’s premium cigar shops are IPCPR members.
"We’re not against all smoking bans. We are against legislated smoking bans," said Chris McCalla, legislative director of the IPCPR. "Many restaurants, bars and other places of business have already declared themselves as ‘no smoking’ venues. That’s their right under the constitution. It’s when the government – local, state or federal – starts telling private citizens how to run their businesses that we have a problem."
McCalla says that the fear of secondhand smoke has been blown out of proportion to reality. Nonetheless, that misplaced fear is what appears to be spinning the issue in favor of the anti-smoking forces, he maintains.
"I’ve read Savannah newspaper articles that are supposed to be writing unbiased articles about the issue saying unattributed things like there are ‘countless studies that show secondhand smoke is dangerous’ and ‘statistics (prove) the lethality of secondhand smoke’ and ‘restaurant servers must wade through smoke to deliver food to patrons.’ Ridiculous!" he said.
"For every such study – many of which are based on bad science if you look at them objectively – there are others that contradict them. And the alleged statistics are mostly fiction, to say the least, concocted out of whole cloth. It’s when you get specific with such broadly biased arguments that their absurdity becomes obvious. Fortunately, most of the online reader comments about such articles are against the proposed ban extension," he said.
McCalla urged City Council members to look at the facts as established by no less than the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor – OSHA – which has set safe level standards for secondhand smoke that are up to 25,000 times higher than are normally found in bars and restaurants.
"Those OSHA standards are based primarily on studies by the American Cancer Society which have proven in conducting air quality testing of secondhand smoke that it absolutely does not constitute a health hazard justifying widespread legislated smoking bans," he said.
McCalla complimented those City Council members who are thoughtfully considering all facets of the issue and said he hoped they would see the wisdom in a decision against expanding the state ban in Savannah. He reminded the council that many cities are reversing or reconsidering their earlier decisions to legislate smoking bans because of the negative impact those bans have had on local businesses.