Tag Archives: Decatur

NEWS > DeKalb mulls expanded smoking ban

Strokers general manager David Randall does paperwork inside the club. Club owners are fighting a DeKalb County proposal to ban smoking in bars.  – ajc.com

(SOURCE)Two decades of bartending in strip clubs has done more than provide a living for Ann Costen.

The work and tips also pay to send her two sons and a niece to college. They paid for her to attend make-up school and help cover her mother’s medical bills.

Costen worries that money could dry up if Dekalb County intrudes on the fantasy world at Strokers Entertainment Club – where men are encouraged to drink and light up a cigarette or cigar as they enjoy the show — by strengthening its smoking ban to include parks, bars and strip clubs.

“I visited a friend who works at an entertainment club in Baltimore where they went no-smoking, and she was barely able to pay her bills,” said Costen, a non-smoker who has worked at the Clarkston club for five years. “If they can’t smoke, I don’t think people will stay as long or spend money. Many won’t come at all.”

That fear of lost business has DeKalb’s eight adult clubs and a handful of other bars fuming against the proposed ordinance. They have submitted more than a hundred petitions arguing for the right to smoke.

DeKalb health officials this spring proposed expanding the county’s ban on smoking in public places.

Their rationale: A bar or strip club worker’s right to a smoke-free workplace outweighs the rights of clients who show up for an evening of smoking, drinking and tipping.

Dr. Elizabeth Ford,  the director of the county Board of Health, says that’s the case even if, like Costen, the workers don’t want the restriction.

The board has $3.2 million in federal funding for anti-smoking initiatives. Ford said the expanded ban is a good way to reduce the hazards of second-hand smoke, which contains nearly 7,000 chemicals, including rat poison, cyanide and formaldehyde.

Those sorts of toxic chemicals increase the likelihood of diseases ranging from heart disease to cancer. In DeKalb, second-hand smoke costs $548 per household for direct healthcare charges, Ford said.

“We’re not trying to destroy businesses,” Ford told commissioners at a recent meeting on the proposal. “What we are trying to do is make sure people who work, live and play in this county we all love have the right to do that without something that could potentially kill them.”

Gwinnett County took what was then the state’s toughest stand to clear the air in 2004, voting to ban smoking in all public places in the county. That included bars, eateries, schools and shops.

Bar owners there immediately complained about financial losses, noting that customers could easily drive to neighboring counties to avoid the ban. Their campaign prompted a citizen review and reconsideration of the law.

In 2005, Gwinnett weakened its law to mirror a new statewide ban. Georgia’s Smokefree Air Act of 2005 bans smoking in all enclosed workplaces but exempts bars and restaurants where people under 18 cannot work or enter.

“The premise that it destroyed business in Gwinnett County, I can’t find any evidence of that,” said Gwinnett spokesman Joe Sorenson. “I think the state passing its law took a lot of the controversy out of it.”

A patchwork of stronger bans exist in some communities, including DeKalb’s 2002 law that predates the state law.  It bans smoking in all restaurants but exempts bars.

Unless Fulton County also changes its exemption for bars, club owners in DeKalb say it’s a pipe dream to think customers won’t go there instead. Some on the county commission, slated to vote on the ordinance in August, agree.

“You open your business under one set of rules and you change the rules, now you’re affecting the cash flow of my business,” said Commissioner Lee May. “That’s OK if that’s the decision we want to make, but I want to be clear if that’s what we want to do.”

Other commissioners have hinted that they will pass only the second part of the proposal, eliminating smoking in parks or on lines for ATM or other outdoor venues. So far, no one has complained about those restrictions.

Adopting them would also put DeKalb in company of other local jurisdictions that focused more on public areas where children are more likely to play or sit with families. Alpharetta, Roswell and Marietta have all taken that stance in recent years.

Still, that restriction is without scrutiny. Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton said couldn’t imagine telling her mother she couldn’t smoke on a park bench, even if no one else was around. Her mother now suffers from lung disease from smoking but still argues for her right light up.

“Our smokers are citizens too, and residents who pay taxes,” Sutton said.

David Randall, the nonsmoking general manager at Strokers, said his father made the same argument to him. A World War II veteran, Randall said his said he’d fought for the right to make his own decisions.

Choice is also a factor for Heidi Carriker. The house mom at the Pink Pony near Buford Highway said only adults can enter her club, meaning they are adults making their own decisions about what to expose themselves to, whether they are customers or employees.

“No one is forced to work here or come here,” Carriker said. “If you want to be a pretty girl, charming men for tips, you can work smoke-free and not take your clothes off and work at Hooters.