Georgia Case Study
Local Comprehensive Clean Indoor Air Ordinance in Georgia
What is the policy and/or program intervention designed to do?
The Albany Coalition for Clean Indoor Air organized a grassroots network which they activated to prevent the weakening or repeal of an enacted clean indoor air ordinance making workplaces, including restaurants, smokefree. The ordinance, strengthened in 1997, but faced several serious threats between 1998 and 1999.
Explain the implementation of the policy and/or program intervention.
In the fall and winter of 1997, the coalition worked to strengthen the 1995 smoke-free workplace ordinance, which had been interpreted to cover only new businesses, and had gone virtually unenforced since its passage. In January of 1998, the city commission amended the ordinance to cover all businesses, and began enforcing the ordinance in March of that year.
A handful of restaurants in Albany were repeatedly non-compliant with the ordinance, and by May 1998, just three months after the effective date, several citations had been issued. In July 1998, the city commission held a work session to consider possible amendments to weaken the ordinance. The coalition packed the work session with close to 150 supporters, many of them wearing surgical masks to visually demonstrate the dangers of secondhand smoke and their support for the ordinance. Following this work session, the coalition worked with members of the Dougherty County Medical Society to publish a letter to the editor in support of the ordinance.
The following week, the coalition held an "appreciation rally" to thank the city commission for passing the ordinance, and to demonstrate widespread community support. The rally featured supporters offering testimonials about the ordinance, and included health care professionals, members of the faith community, a supportive restaurant owner, and youth (who were recruited from a summer asthma camp). During the rally, a 50-yard scroll of petitions in support of the ordinance was rolled out and presented to the mayor and city commissioners. This event generated a great deal of media coverage (TV and print).
During the rally, the coalition released the results of an opinion poll commissioned by the ACS, which found strong support for the ordinance (69% in favor). The polling data was broken out by district, so that the coalition could show each commissioner the level of support for the ordinance in his/her district.
In January of 1999, facing the threat of a legal challenge, the coalition staged a Smoke Free-dom march and candlelight vigil in support of the ordinance on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 18). The candlelight vigil is an annual celebration of MLK Day in Albany, organized by a former state representative. This vigil featured local ministers who spoke about the tobacco industry's targeting of the African American community. As with the appreciation rally, this vigil was wellcovered by the media.
The following day the coalition filled the city commission chambers with over 50 supporters, urging the commission to deny any requests for variances and resist any calls for changes to the ordinance. The commission took no action on the ordinance. The past president of the local American Heart Association helped the coalition analyze the threatened legal challenge, which ultimately went nowhere.
The coalition used Black History Month (February) as an opportunity to continue educating the community about tobacco in the African American community. The coalition held an event, featuring national tobacco control leaders from the African American community: Dr. Robert Robinson (of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health) and the Rev. Jesse Brown (co-founder of the Uptown Coalition, which defeated a test-brand cigarette targeting the African American community in Philadelphia). The coalition also worked with a locally prominent African American surgeon, to place an Op Ed piece in the local paper. This physician also spoke to city commissioners and testified at hearings and work sessions about the hazards of secondhand smoke.
By March 1999, a year after the ordinance had gone into effect, over a dozen hearings had been held regarding no-smoking violations, and several businesses had been issued citations.
In March of 1999 the coalition received a tip that a city commissioner was attempting to quietly place the ordinance on the commission's agenda, to discuss an exemption allowing restaurants to designate themselves as smoking or smoke-free. Once again the coalition mobilized grassroots supporters to attend the city commission work session, and the subsequent public hearing. This attempt failed on a 4 – 3 vote, and was the last serious attempt to weaken or overturn the ordinance.
In the spring of 1999, the coalition produced a 4½-minute PR/educational video about the ordinance, featuring a supportive restaurant owner (who had spoken at the 1998 "Appreciation Rally"). The video aired on local television during the summer of 1999.
The nucleus of the Albany coalition came together in 1995, when two local oncologists and a lawyer decided they wanted to do something about clean indoor air. The "Better Breathers" coalition approached the city council with a proposed smoke-free workplace ordinance, which was passed in November of 1995. That ordinance, interpreted by the city attorney to apply only to businesses that opened after the effective date, went virtually un-enforced. The coalition, disappointed and discouraged by the results of their initial efforts, was dormant until early 1997.
In early 1997, the local ACS hired a tobacco control coordinator. This coordinator helped re-energize the coalition that had come together in 1995 to pass the original ordinance. Re-formed as the Albany Clean Indoor Air Coalition, the group decided to focus its efforts on achieving enforcement of the 1995 ordinance.
The election of two supportive commissioners in November 1997 boosted the coalition's efforts. The coalition held meetings with key city staff: the building inspector responsible for enforcing the ordinance, and the city attorney. The coalition also met with the mayor and supportive city commissioners. With support and encouragement from the coalition, the Dougherty County Board of Health passed a resolution offering its support to the commission to enforce the ordinance.
Through these various efforts, consensus developed that the 1995 ordinance was un-enforceable in existing businesses; the ordinance would need to be amended to cover all businesses. The city commission held a public work session in January 1998 (these sessions are used to craft ordinances before a formal hearing), agreeing to amend the ordinance to apply to all existing and future businesses. This amendment passed at a formal city commission hearing a week later, going into effect in March 1998.
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