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It’s been five months since Lancaster County officially quashed smoking inside restaurants, and most bars, as well as many other public-access areas, and organizers of the initiative say the community has adapted well to the change.
Donna Parsons and Vicki Hinson, members of the county’s Health and Wellness Commission, updated Lancaster County Council on the smoking ban at its Aug. 12 meeting.
Approved by County Council last November and put into effect March 1, the ordinance was the culmination of four years of research by the commission into smoking-related health statistics and discussions with business people and officials from other counties.
The ordinance prohibits smoking inside a long list of enclosed public places, including restaurants, retail stores, motels, libraries and most clubs and bars, though exceptions are granted for private clubs and bars.
Parsons told council a vast majority of the community has complied with the ban.
“It began March 1, but many businesses complied earlier than that date,” Parsons said. “We’ve received numerous messages of support. We had a few complaints reported due to the smoking ordinance, too.”
She said the “citizen-driven initiative” works well by having members of the community report if there are any violations.
“We’ve had three complaints since the ordinance passed. One was about someone smoking inside a business and two were about people smoking in the entrance areas of buildings instead of 25 feet away,” she said.
Penalties spelled out in the ordinance include fines between $10 and $25 for people caught smoking in prohibited areas. There are also fines for owners, managers or operators of public spaces or places of business who fail to enforce the ordinance.
Parsons told council she hopes a $1,000 grant the commission recently received from the S.C. Tobacco-Free Collaborative will help further educate the public about the ordinance.
“We’ve purchased signs to give to businesses. We’ve heard from a lot of people talking about how people smoking in entrances (of buildings) continues to be a problem and we thought if we give them signs that say there’s a 25-feet distance designated area for smoking, that could help,” she said.
Parsons also thanked the respective town councils of Kershaw and Heath Springs for approving similar ordinances, and was encouraged that Lancaster City Council approved first reading of their ordinance on July 23. Final reading for City Council’s ordinance has not been scheduled, though a public hearing on the matter is set for the Sept. 10 meeting.
If Lancaster was to follow suit with the other municipalities and the unincorporated parts of the county, Parsons said it would mark a milestone for the state.
“If they pass it, then Lancaster County could become the first in the state of South Carolina to have a comprehensive plan because no other county has done it,” Parsons said. “We feel pretty good about that situation.”
She told council the commission has followed through on all of its goals during the last year.
“Our priorities this year were to educate people about the harmful effects of smoke, monitor the smoking ordinance and provide options for preventing obesity,” she said.
Councilman Larry Honeycutt lauded the commission and its members for their knowledge and expertise on a variety of medical and health-related issues.
“This is the most dedicated group of people I’ve ever worked with,” Honeycutt said. “Thank you for your work.”
Councilwoman Charlene McGriff agreed.
“They are just hard workers and I see them everywhere I go,” she said.
Councilman Steve Harper had one question for the commission. Having read the specifics of the ordinance, he wondered if electronic cigarettes should be included as a prohibited item.
While there is some question as to their official designation, Hinson said those types of cigarettes don’t fall under the original intent of the ordinance.
“It is interpreted as a cigarette even though it isn’t putting out smoke, but as far as the ordinance is concerned, it does not deal with that issue right now because there’s no secondhand smoke,” Hinson said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416