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Residents fired up over smoking

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By Chris Sardelli

Moving back and forth in front of the podium, sometimes pointing at various Lancaster County Council members, Francis Bell had a lot to say about a proposed county-wide smoking ordinance at council’s Monday, Sept. 24, meeting. 

Bell, a Lancaster native, local attorney and former Lancaster County Council member, objected to the potential ordinance which, if approved after one more reading, will prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces throughout the county. This includes restaurants, bars, retail stores, libraries and public areas of businesses. 

Exceptions to the ban include private residences, retail tobacco stores and private clubs.

Bell said the ordinance amounted to a form of government intrusion and lamented the creation of a “nanny state” where residents are completely monitored. 

“I never felt like we’d become a place where (government) controls everything I do,” Bell said. “I’m a smoker, but I don’t smoke in my office at work. That’s something I decide myself.”

He asked council to stop this ordinance in its tracks and warned it was the first step toward regulating other aspects of life, including what people eat and drink. 

“Do other things that governments do, but stay out of my personal life as much as you can and stay out of my business,” he said. “The word is out. If you get locked up for this ordinance, I’ll ask for a jury trial and represent them for free.”

Council approved second reading of the ordinance at its Sept. 10 meeting, though it later voted to send the ordinance back to the county’s Health and Wellness Commission to clarify the penalties and enforceability. 

The ordinance was not on council’s agenda Monday, though almost 20 residents spoke their mind about the topic during both a citizens-comments portion of the meeting and a specially designated public hearing. 

Doug McManus, owner of Lancaster Speedway, said allowing smoking at his business should be his choice. The current draft of the ordinance would allow outdoor smoking at a business as long as it is 15 feet from an entrance. 

“I believe the decision to smoke or not is a personal choice without the local government choosing (for you),” McManus said. “I also believe enforcement of this ordinance would place a burden on the sheriff’s office.”

For Ryan Payne, who is running for the S.C. House District 44 seat, the ordinance is a “violation of the fundamental rights of government.”

“I have met with residents who have spoken out against this. They feel overregulated and overtaxed,” Payne said. “As a candidate, I represent the county and want to give feedback of what I’ve heard.”

He recommended the decision for smoking be left up to business owners.

“This ordinance will take power from business owners and give it to politicians,” he said. 

A smoke screen

While there was plenty of opposition, many residents lent their support to the ordinance. 

Heath Springs resident Lynn Baker said the ordinance would help protect people’s health. She said many people have mentioned their right to smoke, but asked if they have the right to expose others to secondhand smoke.

“I’m a 12-year breast cancer survivor. Do you really want to smoke around me?” Baker said. “What about employees in the workplace? You can’t tell them to just go find another job (if they don’t like the smoke)?”

Jan Tacy of Indian Land said the ordinance was in the public’s best interest. 

“Smokers have the right to smoke, but I have the right to breathe clean air,” Tacy said.

In reference to concerns about enforcement, Tacy said it “doesn’t seem to be that much of an issue to me.”

“If someone comes up to you and says extinguish your cigarette because there’s no smoking in here, I expect they’ll put it out,” she said. “Some will resist, but that should be the exception.” 

Donna Parsons and Vicki Hinson, the vice-chair and chair of the health and wellness commission, presented several materials to council, including a petition signed by 600 county residents supporting the ordinance. 

Reading a list of Constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and religion, Parsons said smoking was not among them. 

“People who claim the right to smoke say it’s a personal liberty or equal protection for smokers,” Parsons said. “Neither claim is legally valid.”

“The so-called right to smoke is actually a smoke screen,” she said. 

Dr. David Keely, who has worked closely with the commission, said the ordinance, if passed, would improve worker health and curb serious breathing conditions among county residents. 

“There is no safe level of secondhand tobacco smoke,” Keely said. 

Council members did not comment on the issue during the meeting and will consider final reading of the ordinance in October. 

 

 Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at (803) 416-8416