The cigarettes should already be out in Columbia County restaurants.
Mike Pirtle, the head of Citizens Opposing Socialist Tyranny, filed a lawsuit against the county's smoking ban.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Just in case they're not, county officials will be back in their offices from the holidays starting Monday to help enforce the ordinance, if need be.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross says he doesn't expect any problems with the ordinance going into effect, despite a lawsuit filed Dec. 21 by the founder of the activist group Citizens Opposing Socialist Tyranny.
"We anticipate it to go real smooth,'' Cross said about how the ordinance will be received by the public. "We don't really expect anything bad.''
Mike Pirtle, a resident who founded the activist group, said Tuesday that as part of his lawsuit, he has asked for an injunction to stop the ordinance.
He acknowledged that a hearing won't likely occur until sometime later this week, however, meaning the ordinance already will have gone into effect before a judge can rule on a possible injunction.
"I don't see it being able to happen, having a hearing prior to Jan. 1," he said last week.
According to Pirtle, no one in his group is planning a protest against the ordinance. He added that the lawsuit is the vehicle his group will use to express its dissatisfaction with the new law.
"We are actually looking to set a national precedent that smoking bans as a whole are unconstitutional, and especially this one in Columbia County," he said. "They claim that it's a health issue, but their health issue (reasons) have been blown out of proportion here. And that's going to be a determining factor as to how long this case lasts, what it costs and that kind of stuff as to how many experts we have to bring in here."
The ordinance applies to most indoor public settings, including restaurants, but it was revised to allow smoking in certain private clubs and outdoor dining areas.
It was adopted Sept. 21 by the county commission by a 3-2 vote after complaints from some smokers and praise from some in the health services community.
Already, "no smoking" decals have been sent out to county businesses, to be posted at the front of indoor establishments.
County Commissioner Tommy Mercer, who led the drive to have the smoking ban instituted, said he's been carrying "no smoking" signs along in his vehicle just in case a business owner asks for one.
"My front seat is full of signs, and I'm prepared," Mercer said.
Mercer said the smoking ban is something he was proud to have been a part of.
"Jan. 1, I think the quality of life in Columbia County is going to be enhanced tremendously when I and anybody else can go into a restaurant and sit anywhere in that restaurant, and they do not have to smell second-hand smoke," Mercer said. "And I've gotten nothing but compliments from people saying, 'Thank you very much.'"
But with the ban officially set for the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, some county officials acknowledge the ordinance won't really be enforced until Monday when county workers return to their offices.
Besides, Cross said the main enforcers of the ordinance will be the business owners.
"We think the owners will handle it and the staff together," Cross said. "And if there should be any problems with that and we get complaints, we'll go and investigate it. And we'll be issuing warnings the first time around."
For a subsequent offense of violating the ordinance, the punishment could include a maximum fine of $1,000 and or 60 days in jail, depending on a judge's ruling.
Those caught violating the ban also could have their business license revoked.
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