Originally created 01/22/05

Smokers dispute loss of rights



The smoky splendor of a sun-splashed Friday afternoon at Marcella's Fine Cigars and Tobaccos was broken by a rude reminder that this Washington Road shop is an endangered haven for those who light up.

Less than a mile to the west is hostile territory - Columbia County and its recently enacted ban on smoking in public places.

Now comes word that some members of the Georgia Legislature, emboldened by the success of Columbia County and other jurisdictions, would like to enact a statewide ban.

It is enough to make the cigar and pipe aficionados who drift into Marcella's for a few lingering puffs sputter with indignation.

"I don't believe any government should tell a private business what is legal," said Max Troutman, 45, a project manager for a Fort Gordon construction contractor. "If you don't want to smoke, don't go."

Mr. Troutman is a pipe smoker. He buys his Cavendish-blend tobacco at Marcella's and will usually settle into the shop's gray leather sofa or easy chair to banter with store manager Aaron Brock or another regular.

The North Augusta resident gives a short snort when asked about Columbia County and its 3-week-old smoking ban.

"I don't plan on spending any of my money over there," he said.

On this quiet afternoon, blues blares from a small boom box and Mr. Brock, 25, switches from a cigar to a pipe to join Mr. Troutman for a short smoke. Mr. Brock then grinds a mix of coffee beans from Bolivia and the Galapagos Islands for a fresh pot.

The subject of smoking bans causes him to bristle.

"I look at it as part of the assault on civil liberties in general," Mr. Brock said. "It should be a business owner's decision, not something dictated from the powers that be. I don't think America was founded for that."

Banning smoking in a restaurant is one thing, but a ban in a bar is an unnatural act, Mr. Brock said.

"How do you build the atmosphere of a bar without cigarette smoke?" he asks.

Marcella Perez, the store owner, agrees.

"Restaurants and bars should be able to decide on their own if they want to exclude smokers," she said. "Then people have a choice. I don't sit in a smoking section when I go out to eat because I don't want to mix smoking and eating, but that's my preference."

For Mr. Troutman, Marcella's is one of the few places where he's welcome to fire up his pipe. His wife has slapped a private smoking ban on their home, he said.

"Mama done laid down the law there," he said.

This helps make him a conscientious smoker, careful about where he lights up.

"Even if I can smoke this pipe in public, I know it's obnoxious to some people," he said. "I try to appease them."

Mr. Brock gives no quarter.

"Screw the smoking ban," he said. "I'm going to light up anyway."

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (706) 828-3904. or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com.



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