Enquirer Herald

Smoking ban under fire

The county's proposed smoking ban is a hot topic for area business leaders and restaurant owners.

Last week, in reaction to the county's initial OK to ban smoking from public places, the Greater Clover Chamber of Commerce sent a survey to its members at the request of Joe Versen, a chamber member.

"I'm trying to get an idea about the attitude of the membership and how they feel about the smoking ban," said Versen, noting the survey is unscientific. "This is a pretty big issue that will bring significant change."

On Dec. 15, York County Council unanimously approved the ban after months of lobbying by doctors and public health advocates. The move brings York County in line with a growing number of communities across the state and nation looking to just say no to public smoking. The city of Rock Hill also approved a similar ban that same night.

Before the ban becomes law, two more votes are required by county council, which meets again Jan. 5.

Under the ban, people who light up in public places, including restaurants and bars, could face fines as high as $50. Businesses that allow people to smoke in violation of the bans also could be fined, and repeat offenders could lose their licenses.

Versen wants to know specifically how many chamber members have read the ban, if they support it and how the ban would impact their business, if any. The survey also asks if local businesses already have their own self-imposed bans.

It's about choice

Many bar owners are frustrated by the proposal.

"I think it's crap," said Local Motion Bar & Grill owner Tom Snyder. "If they're going to pay my bills, they can tell me what to do."

Snyder said three of every four people coming into his establishment do so, at least in part, to smoke. He has some regular customers who began coming when their previous hangouts went smoke free.

"It's a bar," Snyder said. "Smoking and drinking goes together."

Jessica Dunlap, owner of The Coal Yard in York, called the proposal a hypocrisy.

"Ban cigarettes outright if they are such a hazard to everyone's health," she wrote in a recent letter to the editor of Enquirer-Herald. "Wait, hold up, a ban would eliminate tax revenue from cigarettes, so we know that ain't happening. Hypocrisy wins out."

She agrees that no argument can be made that smoking is healthy. "But if smoking is such a detriment to your health, you have the right not to walk into my (or anyone's) restaurant," Dunlap wrote.

But some bar patrons are happy about the proposal.

"I love to go out for happy hour, but I hate coming home smelling like a smoke stack," said Rhonda Adams of York. "There are some bars I completely avoid because the smoke's so thick I can barely breathe. The smell alone is bad enough, not to mention the fact that second hand smoke is unhealthy."

People should still have the right to smoke, Adams said, but they should be required to do it in places where their smoke can't bother others.

"When I go to smoke-free bars with friends who smoke, they just go outside when they need to light up," she said. "Sure, it may be a pain for them, but why should their comfort come before mine?"

According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, 11 South Carolina municipalities currently enforce public smoking bans that include bars and restaurants, including the counties of Aiken and Beaufort. The cities of Charleston, Columbia and Greenville also have bans.

County Councilman Tom Smith called the smoking ban his toughest decision in two years on council.

"I don't like this decision at this time, because you're impacting people's lives -- on either side," Smith said.

The current economy makes it even more difficult to pass such a ban that could hurt bars and restaurants, Smith said. Then again, not passing a ban could hurt even more people, he said.

"Smoke kills, period," Smith said. "Whether it's somebody smoking or somebody breathing in smoke. It's just a matter of how far do we go?"

Versen, who prefers a smoke-free society but does not support the ban, said the ban will likely change public perception of government.

"South Carolina has always been a private, 'leave me alone'- type of state," Versen said. "There are lots of folks out there who feel the ban's an intrusion of individual's freedoms. But the other side wants to protect the health and welfare of the county residents."

Versen plans to turn over his findings to the chamber's leadership and let the board decide if it wants to submit the results to county council before its next vote.

Clover chamber director Kathy Cantrell said the chamber does not have position on the ban, and if the board does opt to take a stand it won't be until its next meeting on Jan. 6.

Versen also is asking the Greater York, Lake Wylie and York County Regional chambers of commerce to submit the same survey to their members.

-- Lake Wylie Pilot contributed