Proposed Aiken County smoking ban passes second reading

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February 6, 2007

AIKEN, S.C.---Smoking could soon be outlawed in Aiken County. A ban on smoking in public is one step closer to passing.

The Aiken County Council voted by a majority to approve the motion.

More than a hundred people came out to the Council meeting tonight, and for more than two hours they made sure their voices were heard.

Do you have a right to light up in public? It's a question that led to a packed house in Aiken...and opinions were split right down the middle.

"Smoking is not a right," said Holly Woltz. "You can do it in your own private areas. Do not inflict your deathly gas upon me my family or my friends. Don't do it."

"The businesses and bars in this area are not currently breaking any laws and should be allowed to operate as they see fit rather than have a government that tells them how to run their business," said John Magruder.

The ban would make smoking in most public places a thing of the past. Smokers could not light up in parks, malls, on public transportation, in restaurants or in bars attached to restaurants.

Restaurant owners like Sam Erb say that's bad for business.

"Our main competitor is Augusta, Georgia. And if we have this strict ordinance that the county is going to give to us here, we're going to lose business to across the river," he said.

Even nonsmokers rallied in favor of the opposition, saying the ban infringes on our civil liberties. That's why people like Vicki Simons support a partial ban.

"What if I wanted to enjoy a cigarette with my meal?" she said. "I know that's sounds strange coming from a nonsmoker, but I don't want those liberties to be impinged."

For others, this ban, like other bans before it, is a matter of life and death.

"The government is there to protect us," Woltz said. "Seatbelts, how we cook, prepare our food, licensing...we need protection with the air that we breathe. It affects us all."

Tonight was considered the ordinance's second reading. It passed 6 to 3, with an amendment. The amendment was offered by council member Scott Singer, and it exempts bars attached to a restaurant so long as the bar is divided by a wall and has a separate ventilation system.

Other amendments were proposed, and those are being reviewed by the judicial and public safety committee.

The third reading will be two weeks from today. If approved at that reading, the ordinance will pass.

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