Residents fret smoking ordinance infringments

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By Chris Sardelli

Is a potential county smoking ordinance an infringement on personal rights? For at least a few county residents, that answer was yes at Lancaster County Council’s Monday, Sept. 10, meeting.

About an hour before council voted to approve second reading of an ordinance to prohibit smoking in enclosed public places, several people voiced concerns the ordinance amounts to government intrusion.
Looking at the many places where smoking could become prohibited, including restaurants and bars, Lancaster resident Bob Bundy worried it could hinder local businesses.

“Why not include residences? They’re private as well,” Bundy asked council. “Smoking is a legal activity.”
The current draft of the ordinance lists a few exceptions to the ban, including private residences, retail tobacco stores and private clubs.

Bundy asked if the county should just go one step further and ban drinking in restaurants.
“That has a more immediate impact on the public,” Bundy said.

Also a concern, he said, are the potential penalties spelled out in the ordinance, which includes fines between $10 and $25 for people caught smoking in prohibited areas. Those fines increase to $100 for any owner or manager of a business who fails to enforce the ordinance, raising to $200 for subsequent violations. Repeated violations could result in the suspension or loss of various permits or licenses.

“The penalties have been pushed aside as insignificant, but look down in the ordinance and see it says loss of license (as a penalty),” he said.

Hal Crenshaw waved his arms in frustration, as he told council it’s not the government’s right to infringe on the rights of private business owners.

“The word you’re using is public, but it’s not public, it’s private. It’s a private right,” Crenshaw said.
He also wondered about the long-term effects on small businesses.
“Don’t take the right away from us private business owners. Stay out of it,” he said. “You want the goose to lay the golden eggs, but you don’t want the goose that hatches it.”

Crawl before walking

Responding to the criticism, Councilman Larry Honeycutt said the ordinance is “very lenient.”
“This is not designed to take away the rights of any individual,” Honeycutt said. “I support this for my children, for my grandchildren and for my great-grandchildren.”
Despite the concerns, Councilwoman Charlene McGriff said it was time the county followed state and national trends.

“I think we’re far behind in passing this. We’re behind a lot of the state,” McGriff said.
Councilman Cotton Cole remained opposed to the ordinance.

“I have non-smoking in my restaurant, but it’s my choice. Let’s not be like New York City where you can’t sell over 16 ounces of soda because of obesity,” Cole said.

He was referencing an ordinance supported by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that bans sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at most establishments in that city.

Though Councilman Jack Estridge also opposed the ordinance, he said the state Legislature should tackle the larger problem at hand.

“I think we ought to just put pressure on legislators and say don’t sell it (cigarettes) in the state,” Estridge said.
Honeycutt said that was a discussion for another day.

“We have to crawl before we walk,” Honeycutt said.

The cigarette police

Council Chairwoman Kathy Sistare said the question of enforcement remained unanswered.
“I’ve read through it and I think it’s very confusing and that needs to be addressed,” Sistare said. “We’ve talked about how it’s citizen-driven, but how will it be enforced?”

Honeycutt said council members could meet to discuss that issue, but advised that law enforcement would not be patrolling restaurants for offenders.

“We won’t have the cigarette police out running around,” Honeycutt said.

Cole asked how a smoker would be removed from an establishment if they ignore a manager’s requests to stop smoking.

“If you have a $10 fine and a drunk will not put their cigarette out, who puts him out?” Cole asked. “Our (police) department can’t handle real crime now.”

McGriff said it would not be a large concern.

“I think you’re making a bigger deal out of this,” McGriff said.

Shaking his head, Cole disagreed.

“No, ma’am I’m not. I live in the real world,” Cole said.

Sistare then asked County Attorney Frannie Heizer to conduct some research on the enforceability of the ordinance, which Heizer will present to council within the next few weeks.

“There is a very well-developed body of law of how ordinances like this are enforceable,” Heizer said.
Council then voted 4-2 to approve second reading, with Estridge and Cole dissenting. Councilman Larry McCullough was not present.

Council also voted 4-2 to approve recommitting the ordinance to the county’s Health and Wellness Commission to clarify the penalties and enforceability. Estridge and Cole again dissented. Final reading could return to council’s agenda sometime within the next month.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at (803) 416-8416