THURSDAY, May 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- While the days of smoke-filled bars and restaurants made be a fading memory in many states, the number of venues where patrons can legally puff away are actually on the rise in Georgia, a new report finds.
Under current laws, restaurants and bars in Georgia can allow smoking if they deny entry to people younger than 18 and if designated smoking areas are outdoors or in enclosed private rooms with independent ventilation systems.
Between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of Georgia establishments that permitted smoking without restriction in dining areas did fall by more than half. However, during that same time, the percentage that permitted smoking in designated areas nearly doubled -- from about 9 percent in 2006 to almost 18 percent six years later.
According to researchers led by Rachna Chandora of Georgia State University in Atlanta, "the most effective way to protect people from the dangers of secondhand smoke is to implement and enforce legislation that requires all indoor public places to be 100 percent smoke-free."
They noted that most states have made headway against smoking in bars, restaurants and other public gathering places.
"In the United States, 77.4 percent of the population is covered by 100 percent smoke-free restaurant laws and 65.2 percent of the population is covered by 100 percent smoke-free bar laws," they wrote.
Unfortunately, "Georgia falls far behind the nation," they added, with only about 6 percent of residents protected by smoke-free restaurant laws and about 4 percent covered by smoke-free bar laws.
Two anti-smoking experts were troubled by the Georgia statistics, but stressed that more Americans are living smoke-free now than ever before.
"I don't think smoking is making a comeback in other states that have workplace, restaurant/bar smoke-free regulations," said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. "If anything, many states are enacting laws adding outdoor smoke-free regulations to their existing laws."
However, Folan said she agreed with the study authors that, "Georgia legislators should review the state's [anti-smoking] law and consider making it more comprehensive for the health and safety of their constituents."
Dr. Len Horovitz is a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He said "it's alarming to see that smoking is being allowed in bars and restaurants in Georgia at almost double the rate in recent years. The public health dangers of secondhand smoke are legion -- asthma, exacerbation of COPD and coronary artery disease."
According to Horovitz, "It's time for people to acknowledge smoking as the number one health hazard worldwide, not just in the South."
The study was published May 14 in the journal Preventing Chronic Diseases.
There's more on the health benefits of smoke-free establishments at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.