COLUMBIA -- If you visit South Carolina's gleaming renovated Statehouse when it opens next month, you can leave your cigarettes at home. And there won't be those fabled smoke-filled rooms, at least that the public can see.
The Statehouse Committee voted unanimously Thursday to ban smoking in public areas under its jurisdiction.
Gov. David Beasley already bans smoking in his office, and Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler said he also would do that, though those offices are not under Statehouse Committee jurisdiction. The House and Senate also have banned smoking in their chambers.
"I think this sends a very clear message that we're concerned about the health of our citizens in the state of South Carolina," said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia.
Mr. Jackson said he has told tobacco growers the ban is not a broad political statement against South Carolina's biggest cash crop.
"I think we've separated what's best for the citizens of the state from the interests of the farmers," he said.
He brought the idea to the committee, helped by 69 students attending a state African Methodist Episcopal Church leadership conference at Allen University. They are among more than 4,000 teen-agers who have signed pledges to remain smoke free.
"We really don't want to see anything, especially cigarette smoke, ruin this building," said Anthony Reed, 17, of Charleston.
The eight-member committee approved the ban after about 40 minutes of debate. Some members argued against a smoking ban if it could not be imposed everywhere. Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said even a partial ban would make an important statement.
"We'd be setting an example for them to follow," he said.
Smoking already is banned in other state buildings, except for legislators' offices in the Gressette and Blatt buildings.
Until the Statehouse renovations began three years ago, smokers could light up in the lobby between the House and Senate, in private offices and in cloakrooms near the entrance to each chamber. Smoking still will be allowed in private offices.
Mr. Jackson said it would be a shame to soil the $48.4 million in renovations with clouds of smoke. So he and the American Cancer Society sent cards to legislators that said, "Let's Keep The Smoke Out of The House and Senate."
Committee chairman Sen. Verne Smith, D-Greer, said smoking among lawmakers has dropped to where about one in four light up. He said he quit his 47-year, three-pack-a-day habit when he heard his grandson praying "not to let those cigarettes kill my granddad."