Originally created 08/12/05

Columbia County might alter smoking limits

Ray Wren says Columbia County's indoor smoking ban has snuffed out a lot of his business.

But if the county were to bring its limits more in line with the state's less restrictive ban, he said, business could return to his Martinez pool hall and restaurant, Rack & Grill.

"I hope it works because it's going to make me madder than you know what if people don't come back," Mr. Wren said.

Since the county ban went into effect Jan. 1, he said, his alcohol sales have dropped about 50 percent.

A change could be coming from an unlikely ally - County Commissioner Tommy Mercer, who pushed the smoking ban into law late last year.

"What we're talking about is maybe just going with the state ban and then the whole area will be uniformed," Mr. Mercer said. "We're kind of batting it around. We haven't made any decisions."

A new Georgia law prevents indoor smoking except for locations that either restrict entry to people younger than 18 or have enclosed smoking rooms and independent ventilation systems.

Mr. Wren said he spoke with Mr. Mercer about a change after tracking his sales figures.

He said he hopes a change to Columbia County's ban would place his business on a more level playing field with restaurants in neighboring Richmond County.

Mr. Wren said if the county went with the state law, he would change his operation to allow only those 18 and older to enter at all times, allowing smoking inside.

Nick Petkas, the owner of Athens Restaurant and Taverna on Bobby Jones Expressway, said the county's smoking ban has taken a big hit on breakfast, lunch and dinner and has reduced bar business by about 90 percent.

He said if the county goes to the state ban, he would allow smoking in his bar area, which has a separate ventilation system from the restaurant, and he would restrict those younger than 18.

"The county's ordinance ran everybody (on the outskirts of the county) that wanted to smoke out of Columbia County," Mr. Petkas said. "... If the ordinance is dropped and you go to the state, how many are going to come back? I don't know."

Mr. Mercer said complaints about the ban have come from only a few businesses and that overall it has gone over well.

Still, he said there might be the need to change to the state ban to bring "a level playing field for everybody."

If such a change does occur, Mr. Mercer said he doesn't foresee many restaurants doing what it takes to allow smoking.

"I just don't think the restaurants ...would ban 18-year-olds," he said.

Reach Preston Sparks at 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

In comparison

- Indoor smoking ban in Columbia County prohibits smoking in most indoor locations at all times, with the exception of some private clubs and posts or organizations for past or present Armed Forces members.

- Georgia's indoor smoking ban permits smoking in businesses with enclosed smoking rooms and independent ventilation systems or if the business prohibits customers younger than 18. The state law applies if the individual county does not offer a more restrictive law.


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