Downtown Rome will go smoke-free April 1.
Rome City Commissioners voted 7 to 2 Monday to ban smoking and vaping on all outdoor public property along Broad Street, including in sidewalk cafes. The prohibition includes the side streets for a block deep, the Town Green, Bridgepoint Plaza and the parking decks.
"We're not saying you can't smoke," Commissioner Milton Slack said. "We're just saying that, right here, we need to create a healthy environment for everybody."
A line-up of medical professionals spoke before the vote, pointing out the dangers of even second-hand smoke.
"Smoke exposure harms children from conception forward. There is no safe level," said Dr. Melissa Davis, a pediatrician and member of the Rome Board of Education.
Officials from the three local hospitals — Floyd Medical Center, Redmond Regional Medical Center and Harbin Clinic — noted that their campuses are smoke-free. Enforcing the rule is sometimes a struggle, but all said it caused smoking to drop significantly.
Commissioners noted that Rome is a healthcare community and it makes sense to support what the medical coalition called Breatheasy Rome advocated. The original restrictions they proposed were loosened after months of community input, but a majority of the board spoke of modeling a health-conscious culture.
"One hundred percent of the people used these while they were driving," said Commissioner Craig McDaniel, raising his cellphone. "We changed that behavior."
Vaping and e-cigarettes also came in for criticism as a growing and dangerous trend among young people that often leads to tobacco addiction.
Mayor Bill Collins joined Slack, McDaniel and Commissioners Randy Quick, Sundai Stevenson and Evie McNiece in voting for the ban. Commissioners Bill Irmscher and Wendy Davis said they opposed the city's involvement in regulating personal behavior and private businesses.
"Smoking is not illegal," Irmscher said, adding that he spoke to a judge and doctor about the issue and "the doctor said then coughing on Broad Street should be illegal because it spreads germs."
Davis said the best way to regulate smoking is "neighbor-to-neighbor," asking someone to douse a cigarette causing discomfort.
The board made two tweaks before adopting the ordinance. It clarified that business owners must tell patrons they can't smoke in sidewalk cafes. It also exempts from the indoor ban businesses that clearly label their premises as smoking areas.