The York County Council invited the public to weigh in Monday on a controversial proposal to lift the countywide smoking ban for private clubs.
The council unanimously passed the smoking ordinance more than a year ago. But calls to amend the smoking ban have divided council members and drawn big crowds at council meetings.
The most vocal supporters of lifting the ban have been a small but dedicated group of bar owners, employees and members of the VFW and American Legion. The common argument they make is that the smoking ban is hurting their businesses which cater largely to smokers.
Cousy Simpson, who owns a bar in Catawba, southeast of Rock Hill, is just one supporter of an amendment who has attended the last couple of council meetings. He plans to be at tonight's.
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"I haven't missed one yet," he said.
The council is considering an amendment that would exempt private clubs from the smoking ban. Just what defines a private club is up for debate.
Simpson said he hopes the amendment will pass, because the smoking ban is "killing my business. I've been operating in the red ever since."
Also likely to appear are amendment opponents who attended the council's Aug. 16 meeting urging councilmen not to lift the ban for anyone.
Among the opponents is Dr. Robert Sweet, a former Rock Hill VFW commander, physician and former smoker who argued that the ban is necessary to protect the public's health.
Sweet also argued that the smoking ban should remain intact because smoking is detrimental for veterans' organizations. He said that the VFW is losing membership because younger veterans who don't smoke don't want to be a part of the smoking culture they associate with it.
Opposing the amendment are Council Chairman Buddy Motz and Vice Chairman Joe Cox, who argue that the ban protects public health and that any amendment would weaken the ordinance by creating a loophole making exemptions easier to get.
The five remaining council members voted to approve the amendment on first reading, but not all were satisfied with the current definition of private club, including Roy Blake and Chad Williams.
But with Paul Lindemann, Tom Smith and Curwood Chappell backing the amendment, votes by Blake and Williams might decide the outcome.
If approved on second reading tonight, the amendment's final reading would be Sept. 20. In the meantime, council members may request revisions.
County Manager Jim Baker said that county staff recommends no changes to the amendment.
Fort Mill's smoking ban exempts private clubs while limiting them to nonprofit organizations that operate as something other than bars or for-profit ventures.
The amendment before the council would lift the ban for organizations that meet a new definition of "private club," which includes nonprofits such as the VFW and American Legion as well as for-profits.
To qualify for exemption, private clubs must collect annual dues, cater only to members 21 years old or older, create a board of directors or similar body and write bylaws or a governing constitution.
Private club operators also would have to post signs and ensure that all members and employees acknowledge in writing the danger of tobacco smoke.