Cities set to move on smoking bans

AIKEN --- Now that the state's top judges say smoking bans are legal, some city leaders are thinking of snuffing out cigarettes.

Though a smoking ban is already in effect in unincorporated parts of Aiken County, city leaders in North Augusta and Aiken held off because of legal challenges in other parts of the state.

But the South Carolina Supreme Court says smoking bans are OK, and last month it overturned a lower court's ruling that struck down a prohibition on lighting up in public places in Greenville.

Officials in North Augusta and Aiken say they're going to talk about implementing similar restrictions in light of the justices' approval.

Dozens of bars and restaurants had sued to overturn the Greenville ban, which is similar to ones in Florida and Georgia. It's similar to Aiken County's, which prohibits smokers from puffing away in most public places.

North Augusta Councilman Arthur Shealy said he predicts the ban the county administrator and attorney have been ordered to draft will pass, but he does have one problem with it.

"I think people should be able to smoke in places like Waffle House," he said. "Traditionally, that's where smokers like to hang around."

Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh won't make any predictions, but he knows the ban will come up for debate.

The city waited for the Supreme Court ruling, he said, because there was no point in enacting a law that could have been overturned.

"I'm not taking a side here," Mr. Cavanaugh said, discussing the property rights and health issues surrounding smoking bans. "Some might feel that if people don't want to visit a restaurant or bar because there is smoking, they don't have to do it. It's obviously over the last few years been a lot of discussion on it."

Aiken County Councilman Scott Singer said he hopes city leaders will adopt the county's ban.

"The municipalities need to make up their own minds," he said, "But I would encourage them to at least explore that possibility."

The North Augusta proposal is expected to be discussed by council members May 5, which will determine how restrictive the city's ban will be if passed.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.