Prospects cloudy for county ban on smoking

More than a year has passed since York County officials started talking about a county-wide smoking ban in public places.
More than a year has passed since York County officials started talking about a county-wide smoking ban in public places.

The prospects for a York County-wide ban on smoking in public places are still uncertain more than a year after elected officials started talking seriously about the idea.

Four County Council members told The Herald last week they are undecided or opposed, suggesting the measure could pass the seven-member council by a razor-thin margin in the initial Dec. 15 vote -- if it passes at all.

"I feel like we'll be able to get that passed," said Council Chairman Buddy Motz, an early supporter. "But it's going to be close."

Weighing their choices

The council's lone Democrat, Roy Blake of Rock Hill, offered a take last week that reflects the ambivalence among his colleagues.

"I want to see if we can leave it up to the proprietors, the restaurants and owners," he said. "But I could switch. That's the way I'm leaning."

Supporters view the ban as an urgent public health issue, arguing that secondhand smoke kills thousands every year. They also say people have a right to breathe clean air, whether at work or enjoying dinner.

Opponents believe the real hazard is when the government tries to dictate a decision they feel is better left to individuals. Bans typically apply to indoor public gathering spots, meaning restaurants and bars are by far the most affected.

In Fort Mill, Councilman Paul Lindemann said he is leaning toward a "Yes" vote after speaking with a handful of restaurant owners in his district.

"I hate to be bigger government, telling businesses what they can and can't do. The flip side is, there's people that go into their establishments that don't like it (smoking). It's kind of a no-win situation."

Councilman Tom Smith of Lake Wylie said he wants to hear from more constituents before deciding. Councilman Joe Cox, who represents western York County, said he plans to vote against a ban.

City eyes options

The county's decision could affect how Rock Hill elected officials choose to proceed. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue Monday night, though no vote is planned.

Rock Hill leaders are reluctant to impose a ban on their own, saying they are concerned it would create disparities for businesses around the jagged edges of the city limits.

When he raised the proposal last year, Mayor Doug Echols said he hoped Rock Hill and York County would become the first local governments in South Carolina to partner on a joint policy. At least 21 municipalities in S.C. have imposed similar bans.

Now, supporters are scrambling to put together the needed votes. In an e-mail to members of Tobacco Free York County, organizers called for stepping up the lobbying effort.

"Otherwise," the message said, "the current 'provisional' majority support for going ahead and introducing a proposed County comprehensive ordinance in early December will 'die on the vine' (as the saying goes)."