Just before Columbia County commissioners approved a first read of a revised Columbia County Smoke Free Air Act Tuesday, commissioner Lee Anderson said a poll he had asked for suggests his district doesn't want the ban.
"I feel like I have to vote the conscience of what my district wants," Anderson said before voting against the act along with Diane Ford.
Other commissioners, however, quickly disagreed with what Anderson's poll actually found.
"To me, that's a mandate enough," said Ron Cross, the commission chairman, after hearing that 51 percent of those polled by phone in Anderson's district four said they would support a ban on smoking in public places in the county. Thirty nine percent said they wouldn't support such a ban.
Along with commissioners Tommy Mercer and Steve Brown, Cross voted for the first read of the ordinance, which would ban smoking in public places such as restaurants and bars.
But Anderson said his main concern was with the response of residents on the question of whether or not the commission should force businesses to go smoke free. In that case, the poll, considered non-scientific, found 59 percent of people said such a decision should be left up to individual businesses. Thirty six percent said it should be up to the commission to decide.
In District Four, which includes the areas of Harlem, Grovetown and portions of Appling, about 3,300 people answered the phone poll, but out of that about 750 actually registered responses by punching a key pad number for an answer.
Residents were asked four questions in the poll: If they had heard of the proposed smoking ban, if they would support the ban, if county commissioners should impose the ban and if they thought the ban would hurt or help businesses.
Concerning the first question, 720, or 92.4 percent, of people said they had heard about the proposed ban compared to just 59 who hadn't. On question two, 386 were for a ban while 299 were against it and 68 were undecided. On the question of whether the commission should impose the ban, 439 of those polled said individual businesses should choose, 270 said the commission should choose and 33 were undecided.
Voters seemed to be more evenly split on the question of how such a ban would effect businesses, with 379, or 52 percent, saying it would be positive and 343, or 47 percent, saying it would be negative.
Anderson said he had the poll conducted the night before his second chance to vote on the issue. The ban now must go before commissioners one more time for a second and final reading of the revised ordinance at their Sept. 21 meeting.
The ordinance has already been voted on once on Aug. 17 with a 3-2 vote by commissioners. However, on Tuesday, it was revised to allow smoking in certain outdoor dining areas and certain private clubs.
The provision for outdoor dining areas applies to those that may be covered by a roof but must be open on at least three sides.
Susan Werner, owner of Twisted Chicken Cafe in Evans, said her business has such a patio, and she thinks the allowance is a good idea.
"I think it's just an added bonus for them if they can go out on the porch and smoke," she said.
Included in the criteria that private clubs must meet is a stipulation that the private club must be limited by number, have at least 75 regular members who pay at least $50 a year and not receive more than 35 percent of its gross revenues from nonmembers.
The criteria for Armed Forces posts or organizations includes a requirement that at least 75 percent of the members be past or present Armed Forces members. A requirement that smoking not be allowed within 25 feet of a public building's door also was changed to 10 feet.
As part of the ordinance, there also is a provision for violations and penalties that states public business owners could have their licenses suspended or revoked if they violate the ordinance.
Werner said that probably will result in a lot of self enforcement by restaurant owners.
"I still don't think it will be a huge impact on our business," she said of the proposed smoking ban, which applies to public places such as restaurants and bars. "And we're certainly not going to violate an ordinance like that to where it would impact our licensing."
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