Mike Pirtle has been handing
out petitions which advocate freedom of choice regarding smoking in public places.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Mike Pirtle wants to snuff out a proposed smoking ban for public places in Columbia and Richmond counties - so much so he recently helped organize a group opposed to the possibility.
"Our position on it is it (smoking) is a personal choice issue, not a choice of the government," he said, referring to the stance taken by the group called COST, an acronym for Citizens Opposing Socialist Tyranny. "Smokers should have somewhere where they are able to go without the government telling them 'No, all smoking should cease in a public place."'
Pirtle, an Augusta resident, said his new group has had about 100 people inquire about becoming a member of COST so far - half of which he said have come from Columbia County. He said petitions he has placed in Columbia and Richmond county restaurants have yielded about 5,000 signatures from those against a smoking ban for public places. Some Columbia County commissioners have already come out in favor of such a ban, proposing the Columbia County Smoke Free Air Act of 2004.
But just as Pirtle's group has been collecting signatures, the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce has conducted its own poll of chamber members.
The poll of more than 550 chamber members found 71 percent of those surveyed are in favor of the ban. The remaining 29 percent said they are against it.
"Our concern is that we want to make sure the business voice is heard," said Gordon Renshaw, the chamber's executive director.
Renshaw said he thinks the chamber's poll is representative of the county's business community.
"I think it (the 71 percent approval) is strong support from the business community," he said. "But at same time, I do not believe it's wise to discount some of the concerns of businesses (against the ban)."
Renshaw said the chamber has already shared the results of its poll with county commissioners.
The ban, according to the chamber, would apply to enclosed public places in Columbia County, including offices, banks, laundromats, hotels, motels, restaurants and bars. However, there are some exemptions, including hotel and motel rooms designated as smoking rooms, retail tobacco stores and outdoor areas 25 feet away from a business.
Mr. Pirtle and his organization say such restrictions aren't fair to smokers. He said he will present his petition to commissioners when they address the issue in a meeting.
Renshaw, however, said he believes his chamber's poll speaks volumes for the county.
"I think 70 (percent in favor), 30 (percent against) is exactly where it's going to end up," he said.
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