Gay Atlanta man crusading for smoke-free city

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A gay Atlanta man is reigniting the debate over banning smoking in bars and restaurants – in fact, everywhere in Atlanta – and created an easy way for supporters to back the effort.

Patrick Busko, a Realtor, created a Facebook page two years ago to chronicle his attempts to stomp out the smokes inside bars and restaurants. A smoke-free Atlanta gained steam last year when several gay bars – Eagle, Burkhart's, My Sister's Room, Heretic, Mary's and Jungle – either banned or sharply curtailed smoking indoors. The bear-popular Starbucks in Ansley Mall even dropped outdoor smoking and the Atlanta City Council banned it in parks, though Atlanta Pride showed the ban isn't well-enforced.

On Monday, Busko added some new energy to his crusade: An online petition calling on the city council to Create a smoke-free Atlanta.

Atlantans deserve better. Its time we joined every other major city in the US and create a smoke-free city. We currently have piecemeal protections that ban smoking in parks and certain indoor situations, but there are too many place that still allow smoking.  Employees and patrons of Atlanta establishments deserve to be able to go out to eat, see a show or have a drink without dealing with the negative effects of second-hand smoke. 

So we touched base with Busko to talk about his effort, the reaction and what he hopes will happen because of it.

What prompted you to create the online petition?

Sunday was an amazing day outside. I was sitting on the roof at Six Feet Under on Memorial with friends enjoying dinner and the weather, but we were overwhelmed with smoke from the woman smoking at the next table. I thought to myself, I'm tired of complaining and listening to friends complain about smoke. What can we do about this? So I created this petition to show City Council that their constituents are concerned about this issue and want them to act.

When did you create it and what's been the reaction since?

I created the petition Monday and posted it to my Facebook page. There have been 220 signatures in just over 24 hours. I hope that that number will multiply as more and more people sign and share. [As of Wednesday, the number of supporters reached 280.]

What do you hope is the outcome of this effort? (The city banned smoking in its parks last year; do you think they'll revisit the overall issue?)

As far as the outcome, I hope this petition will start a conversation among our elected officials about going smoke-free. There are opinions on both sides that need to be heard, but ultimately I think we will see Atlanta go smoke-free. It's just a question of when in my mind. The sooner, the better. Currently the city has piecemeal legislation related to smoking. You can smoke in a restaurant/bar if no one under 18 allowed. You cannot smoke in city parks. These are a great start, but they do not offer comprehensive protection for Atlantans.

Critics of citywide ban argue that businesses are addressing the issue and banning or curtailing smoking, such as several LGBT bars did last year. Those folks argue it's a decision best left to business owners, not a regulation handed down by government. What's your response to that?

I applaud the businesses that have voluntarily gone smoke-free. Some of Atlanta's best known and most popular establishments have gone smoke-free and are reaping the rewards. This really started out as a personal mission for me. I hated coming home from an evening out and smelling like smoke. I hated having to wash my jeans before I could wear them again or wash my hair before I went to bed because everything smelled like smoke.

Opponents will argue that I can choose not to go out to a smoking establishment. That is true. As I have done more research on the subject I've realized it's more complicated than that. There are employees of smoking establishments who are subjected to second hand smoke day after day. Is that right? Should their health be put at risk when going to work? OSHA protects employees from workplace hazards, but isn't second hand smoke a workplace hazard too? I am not a favor of "big brother" or the government meddling unnecessarily in anyone's business, but this is a matter of public health. In my opinion, the government can and should take a stand in this case to protect the health of its citizens.

Opponents of this will likely say they worry about how it will affect their business. They may fear smoking patrons will no longer visit their establishments if smoking is banned. If people in NYC or Chicago will stand outside in negative temperatures for a cigarette, people in Atlanta will too. Decatur is a perfect example. It is one of the most vibrant restaurant/bar districts in the metro area and they do not allow indoor smoking.

You mentioned there's a Facebook page. Something you created tied to your petition?

I have been passionate about this issue for a while. I created the Facebook Page Ban Smoking in ATL Restaurants/Bars about two years ago and am looking to channel the support I see out there for this cause.

It took on a life of its own. I liked the page and suggested it to some friends. From there it spread and has about 1,600 likes now. I knew there was more that could be done to bring awareness of this issue. I have, from time to time, emailed members of Atlanta City Council and have never gotten a response on the topic. I thought through this Facebook page and the petition I can show significant support of this issue and bring that to our elected officials so they see the support behind this initiative.


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