Smoking law change could be delayed

LAWRENCEVILLE - A state meeting today could determine whether Gwinnett's restrictive smoking ban will end Nov. 1 as scheduled.

Because of some concerns about the state provisions that would be enacted in place of the current law, commissioners are awaiting word from the Georgia Department of Human Resources on rules for the state's ban. The DHR board is expected to take up the rules today at a meeting in Elberton.

"I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. We'll make a decision from there," said District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, thought to be the deciding vote in the matter.

"We have to have an ordinance that's enforceable."

Beginning in April 2004, the county ordinance restricted smoking in any public place with few exceptions, including patios. But business owners criticized the ban because it did not apply in 11 of the county's 15 municipalities. The other four cities - Snellville, Loganville, Grayson and Berkeley Lake - have adopted their own smoking laws.

In September, commissioners voted to do away with the more restrictive ban in favor of the state's law, which went into effect in July.

The state law, which applies in the majority of Gwinnett's cities, allows smoking in venues only open to those 18 and older and in barrier-separated rooms with separate ventilation systems.

Health advocates have continued to lobby county commissioners to delay the law change because the state's rules governing the ban haven't been set.

On Monday, the American Cancer Society's Andy Lord made a plea to the Board of Health for help in delaying the vote.

He listed seven issues with the law. One of those is that some businesses could claim to be a private club in order to allow smoking or that businesses could simply no longer allow children after a certain hour to allow smoking.

The Board of Health passed a resolution asking for the county commission to wait until Jan. 1 to make sure all questions have been answered by the state.

District 1 Commissioner Lorraine Green led the effort to adopt the state ban, and District 4's Kevin Kenerly sought an exemption for night spot Wild Bill's a year ago.

At the same time, Chairman Charles Bannister and District 2 Commissioner Bert Nasuti are in favor of the more restrictive county ban, leaving Beaudreau as the deciding vote in the delay debate.

Beaudreau, a member of the Board of Health, said he simply wants clarification on the law.

"My intention was never to have an ordinance that is less enforceable and may be even less fair to business owners and patrons," he said. "We have a deadline of Nov. 1 coming up."

Green, who led the effort to adopt the state ban, said the county set the Nov. 1 date to wait for today's ruling.

In fact, she moved the effective date from Oct. 1, when the DHR schedule was mentioned in a public meeting.

"It's not a question mark," she said. "The rules come out tomorrow. If the rules are not voted on tomorrow, I would move to push it back."