Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill's smoking ban begins Aug. 1

It's official.

The Town of Fort Mill will be a smoke-free zone.

Within months.

That means forget about lighting up a cigarette in a public place.

Smoking will be allowed in private clubs, however.

A measure to stop public smoking within the Town of Fort Mill except in private clubs such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion passed unanimously during a Monday night Fort Mill Town Council meeting.

Smoking in public places within the Town of Fort Mill is taboo effective Aug. 1.

Officials in York County and neighboring Rock Hill have already adopted smoking ordinances. Fort Mill's smoking ordinance, though similar, affords an exemption to private clubs.

That sparked concern during Monday's council meeting.

"Consider an amendment that says existing private clubs are grandfathered in," Dr. David Keely of Tobacco Free York County said. "Do you want to become a place where other clubs come to locate?"

New private clubs, Keely proposed, would be smoke free if they had employees.

"You have a VFW and an American Legion here," Keely said. "If you're looking at all of York County and the City of Rock Hill, those councils made decisions to protect all the workers."

Keely also suggested Fort Mill leaders follow the same course instead of allowing Fort Mill "to become a magnet" for private clubs that allow smoking.

But the right to smoke is just that, Fort Mill resident Geraldine Lavender told the town council.

"This debate carries a larger issue and that is the line between a government's obligation to its citizens and impeding on a citizen's right to free choice.

"While I seriously agree that smoking should be banned in most public buildings and even some outdoor venues, as with any debate, there has to be a compromise on both sides. So I strongly object to an all encompassing ban, specifically concerning private businesses and especially private membership organizations."

About 20 minutes later, Councilman Tom Adams had a question.

"What's the feeling concerning private clubs and exempting existing private clubs?" Adams asked.

"I have an opinion about that," Councilman Ken Starnes said. "I am personally not a smoker. I certainly appreciate the health issues, no question about it."

But Starnes found fault with Keely's suggestion.

"I don't see how you can exempt the existing ones (private clubs) and exclude new ones," Starnes said. "I don't think that allowing smoking in private clubs and not allowing it in other (private) clubs is fair."

Still, Mayor Danny Funderburk contended that the issue of lighting up in a private club rests with that organization.

"We've gone as far as we need to go," he said of governmental checks and balances germane to private clubs and smoking. "Let private clubs make their own decisions."

A brief lull followed.

"We're exempting private clubs," Starnes said.

"Period," Councilman Larry Huntley said.

Moments later, the smoking ordinance as it was presented to the town leaders last month got its final approving nod from the Fort Mill Town Council, paving the way for private club patrons to light up cigarettes or cigars.

"I was particularly concerned about the VFW and the American Legion because they (members) did fight for our country," Huntley said. "It was a good compromise."

That compromise sat well with Geraldine Lavender.

"It's good," she said. "Sometimes, there's not enough freedom of choice. You should be able to choose. Smoking is a personal choice."

Keely took issue with the new law.

"I'm disappointed that we're not protecting workers in all workplaces in the Town of Fort Mill," he said.

Yet, the measure is a good fit for Fort Mill, Councilman Kerry Mosher said.

"We did a good thing," he said. "Government shouldn't be dictating to private clubs."

The measure was initially approved during a council meeting held May 11.

Under similar ordinances drafted by York County and Rock Hill, smoking is prohibited in public places, such as bars, Bingo facilities, elevators, health care facilities and hotel and motel lobbies.

Smoking also is banned in polling places, restaurants, restrooms, licensed childcare and adult day care facilities as well as buildings and vehicles owned, operated or leased by the Town of Fort Mill.

Those individuals who violate the smoking ordinance face fines ranging from $10 to $25 for Rock Hill violations and a fee not to exceed $50 for violations in York County.

Rock Hill business operators, owners and managers face a $10 to $25 fine as well as suspension or revocation of occupancy permits or business licenses. The York County ordinance reflects a fine not to exceed $100 for first-time violators in addition to suspension or revocation of occupancy permits or relative business licenses.