Passage is expected Tuesday when it's time for the final vote on the Columbia County Smoke Free Air Act. Three commissioners are expected to vote in favor, and two against.
This measure to ban smoking inside publicly accessible buildings, especially restaurants, is welcome. But it sure would be nice if the two holdout commissioners could hack through the smoke and join the pro-ban majority.
The commissioner best suited to make such a switch has the least excuse for failing to do so. Lee Anderson represents Harlem, Grovetown and Appling, areas that traditionally have been less politically progressive. (A higher percentage of Anderson's voters opposed the recent sales tax, for example.)
Like any good elected official, Anderson likes to closely follow the wishes of his voters, but in the case of the ban he wasn't sure which way the smoke was blowing. So Anderson took an extraordinary step: He hired Southeastern Marketing's Jim Cox to poll his constituents.
The night before commissioners voted on the smoke ban, Cox put a high-tech finger in the wind, with a computerized system calling all 12,625 households in District 3. The automated caller made live contact 3,338 times; of those, 760 people stayed on to answer all four questions.
Of those, 92 percent had heard about the proposed ban; just over 51 percent support it, 40 percent oppose it and 9 percent have no preference.
While that should have been enough to convince Anderson to support the ban, he instead relied on answers to another question in voting no. When asked who should impose a ban, 59 percent of those polled said businesses should do so, while 36 percent thought the county should pass a law. Anderson read the two answers to mean that while his constituents want a ban, they don't want the county to impose it.
"At least I've done the best I can do to get the true picture of how my people in the district want me to vote," Anderson says. Other commissioners disagree with his interpretation of that picture, however, including Chairman Ron Cross, who sees the 51-40 majority as a "mandate" favoring the ban. We agree.
As for the question of who should impose such a ban, it's surprising the majority in favor of a private-sector solution isn't stronger. In a perfect world, businesses would refuse to allow patrons to set fire to anything and let it smolder inside their building. Consumers make their own choices every day, and most of us would prefer that businesses do the right thing, too.
But practicality and common sense says few businesses will attempt to exclude anyone out of fear that those customers will just go elsewhere. An across-the-board smoking ban keeps the playing field level. In Anderson's poll, by the way, 52 percent say the ban will have a "positive" affect on businesses.
Anderson's constituents clearly favor a ban. They don't have the authority to impose one, and business owners don't have the ability to impose one on anyone else. Commissioners do have that authority, however, and Anderson should join his colleagues in exercising it Tuesday.
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