February 9, 2016

Florence bans smoking at most indoor businesses

Florence became the latest South Carolina city to pass an indoor smoking ban Monday night.

The city council gave final reading to a new ordinance that bans smoking in most businesses and indoor areas “open to the public.” It will go into law in November.

(Read final copy of ordinance here)

Supporters pushed for the law as a public health issue, citing the effects of secondhand smoke. Florence mayor Stephen Wukela said it had a lot of support.

If you talk to business owners, particularly restaurateurs, many of them will confidentially tell you, “Look, we want the city to do this. We don’t want to do it ourselves, but it gives us some cover with our customers. If you do it, we don’t really feel like we’re going to lose customers.

Councilman Steve Powers questioned how popular the law was among residents, pointing to large crowds which had spoken against the ordinance in public hearings. He said he believed it intruded too much on the rights of businesses.

I think Florence City Council was at a crossroads yesterday. They crossed through it and took away the liberties and rights of business owners in the city of Florence.

Businesses and individuals could be fined between $10 and $25 if they violate the law.

Monday’s vote was the culmination of over a year of work by supporters. Council members originally tried to pass a stricter ordinance last year that included bigger fines and greater restrictions, but lacked the votes. Wukela and others made some changes to the proposal, including creating exemptions for hotel rooms and assisted-living facilities. Those exemptions were enough to get the council to approve the law by a 5-2 vote.

It would also allow businesses to set aside a special room open only to employees who wished to smoke– provided the room was well-ventilated and enclosed. The compromise was proposed by Powers, who later opposed it when the council added a requirement that a city inspector had to approve the room.

Powers said the exemptions for hotels and nursing homes were unfair because they treated certain businesses differently than others.

They were forcing people that service those two entities that (don’t) smoke to be right in the middle of it… They say one thing and do another. This needed to be consistent for all businesses, and it was not. It was totally one-sided.

However, Powers, who owns a printing service in Florence, admitted he would have probably voted against the law even without the exemptions.

Florence’s vote came at the same time as a similar vote in the Spartanburg City Council that banned smoking at restaurants and bars there. Thirty cities and towns in South Carolina now have an indoor smoking ban of some kind, including Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville.

Wukela said he thinks anti-smoking laws will continue to expand in South Carolina.

This is the South and it has a long history of being agricultural and (harvesting) tobacco, especially in my part of the state. But, over the recent generations, the dangers and health risks posed by cigarette smoke I think are becoming increasingly evident. People are becoming more conscious of it.

Wukela said Florence’s anti-smoking efforts gained momentum after similar laws passed in other South Carolina cities. He said the smooth transition in those communities convinced council members there would be little negative impact on businesses in Florence.

Wukela said, privately, he would have preferred Florence to be the first to pass such a law.

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