Smoking ban up for vote tonight

It started two years ago with conversations among local doctors, nurses and public health advocates.

Tonight, the long-running push for a county-wide smoking ban will reach a point of decision, when Rock Hill and York County elected officials vote on the issue for the first time.

The two bodies could move closer to outlawing smoking in restaurants, bars and other public gathering places, similar to what more than a dozen other S.C. communities have done already.

Rock Hill leaders will take the first of two votes, while county officials only are deciding whether to hold votes at subsequent sessions. Both meetings start at 6 p.m.

People in the medical field hope their prolonged lobbying efforts will pay off with tougher rules to curb the dangers of secondhand smoke.

"We're by no means on the cutting edge of this," said Dr. Alan Nichols of Rock Hill, one of the original advocates. "We're behind the curve. This is something that has already happened in large parts of the world."

Opponents: It's about choice

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.

"It's a grown adult's choice to decide whether to come in that bar," Brad Hickle, co-owner of Rock City Tavern, said at a recent forum. "I want choice. I'm not publicly funded. I just believe it should be the bar owner's choice."

Local officials held a series of public forums around the county to give residents a chance to sound off. An approval is expected in Rock Hill, where Mayor Doug Echols has spoken in favor of a ban for more than a year.

The vote will likely be tighter at the county level, where at least four councilmen haven't taken public positions.

However, Chairman Buddy Motz has said he believes the measure has enough votes to pass.

Echols and Motz are former smokers who dropped the habit many years ago.

Both say their views matured as the health risks became clearer. Now they're hoping to do something about it.