Councilman Ricky Waring flatly opposed the law as overreaching and detrimental to business. Two other councilmen, Bob Jackson and Aaron Brown, voted in favor after hearing support from most of the constituents who spoke to them, but they had concerns with it. Their concerns echoed Waring’s. Councilman Walter Bailey was absent.
“People are tired of big government, and I agree with them. Now here we are getting down to telling businesses what to do. They’re struggling, and here we add one more thing (to the struggle),” Waring said.
The ban would need one more vote to become law.
The vote followed a public comment session during which more than a dozen people spoke.
Two of every three favored the ban, ranging from medical doctors to an 11-year-old who didn’t like the smell or how exposure to smoke left her brothers wheezing.
They supported the law based on health and aesthetic concerns. Others opposed it as a violation of property owners’ rights.
Banning smoking “may or may not affect our business,” said Bob Brittingham, who owns Montreux, a downtown restaurant, but he knows it won’t affect competitors outside town limits, he said.
He listed more than $140,000 per year in taxes and fees the restaurant pays, and listed its civic contributions. “We would like to retain control of the decision to allow or not allow smoking in our business,” he said.
The serious tone of the debate was broken by Summerville resident Joe Christie, who said that with surrounding towns passing similar laws, “that leaves Summerville as a smoker’s oasis. I don’t want smokers coming into Summerville and turning us into the armpit of the region.”
The proposed law would fine violators and establishment owners between $10 and $25 per incident. It would allow exceptions, such as private residences and tobacco stores. It “grandfathers” existing cigar bars.
Similar laws have been passed in Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Ravenel, among other communities in the state.
Council tabled the proposed law in May after a similar comment session, when council members said then they had concerns it was overreaching.
The ban has been pushed by two anti-smoking groups, the Smoke Free Lowcountry Coalition and the South Carolina chapter of the African American Tobacco Control Network.