Thu., August 12, 2010 5:26pm (EDT)

Smoke-Free Savannah May Allow Hookah
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 4 years ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
Under a new ordinance, smokers would have to leave a bar and restaurant and stand 10 feet "or a reasonable distance" from the entrance before lighting up.  Business owners could be held responsible for scofflaw smokers if they don't ask the smoker to leave under threat of calling the police.  (photo Mark Sebastian)
Under a new ordinance, smokers would have to leave a bar and restaurant and stand 10 feet "or a reasonable distance" from the entrance before lighting up. Business owners could be held responsible for scofflaw smokers if they don't ask the smoker to leave under threat of calling the police. (photo Mark Sebastian)
Savannah City Council members want to make sure no one's put out of business by a new smoking ban.

Savannah is poised to ban smoking at all bars and restaurants in the next few weeks or months.

But at a their regular meeting Thursday, council members expressed concern for a handful of tobacco-related businesses.

They appeared to draw the line at closing a newly-opened hookah lounge, the city's first such business, one that many larger cities have.

"All I ask of you is to be understanding that this product has nothing harmful," said Tony Morrison, the Morrocan-born owner of Mirage on Broughton Street. "If we cannot do hookah at the lounge, we will be closed and we will be shut down."

Morrison said that he has agreed to sell only tobacco-free products at his lounge, where patrons smoke water pipes in Middle Eastern style.

Exemptions also could be carved out for restaurants and bars with outdoor patios.

"We're about to embark in the patio wars," said Mike Vacquer, who represents the Savannah Restaurant Association. "We would like some accomodations for patrons who would like to smoke outside."

A handful of downtown Savannah restaurants feature outdoor patios, including some with stunning vistas.

Alderman Tony Thomas mentioned two such restaurants in particular, those at the Bohemian Hotel and the Hyatt Regency, both of which are on the Savannah waterfront.

Health advocates, however, urged the council to adopt the strictest possible language.

"You have the opportunity here to have a healthier city and healthier citizens," said Paula Chrysler, one of several people who spoke on behalf of the ordinance's passage. "This action is a strong and bold stance toward a healthy and economically vibrant Savannah."

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the the Chatham County Health Department also spoke.

Business owners, however, pleaded for some lenience. And the council just might give it to them, while still passing the ordinance.

They directed the Interim City Manager to address some of their concerns.

"The revisions have been coming quickly in the past day," said Alderman Jeff Felser. "If you get language, it would be great to see that as soon as possible.

The council will take a final vote in two weeks.