When Georgia's indoor smoking ban went into effect July 1, businesses operating under Columbia County's tougher rules breathed a small sigh of relief.
No longer would they lose business to neighboring counties that allowed smoking. The playing field would be leveled.
But the playing field, it seems, isn't level at all.So, after a bumpy first month, county commissioners are considering repealing the county ordinance altogether.
We support the change. In fact, we suggested the repeal when the state law took effect.
Much of what is driving the move is a handful of businesses that hover on the edge of the county's definition of a bar. The county's alcohol laws don't allow bars; such businesses must get more than half of their revenue from foods sales.
The Backyard Tavern, Finish Line Cafe, the Sidetrack Grill and the Rack and Grill, already sweating to meet those numeric goals, have at times struggled with the new ordinance. Most of their clientele is adult, and are more likely to be the type to hang around a while and smoke.
I've got a poolroom, says Rack and Grill owner Ray Wren. People don't come in here for 30 minutes; they come in here for two or three hours to shoot pool. One beer distributor, Wren says, has tracked a 50 percent drop in orders at the Rack and Grill since the beginning of the year.
I've been there 16 years, Wren says, and I've never seen it this bad.
The state ban, which should have prevented smoking in surrounding counties and thus prevented businesses like Wren's from losing clientele to neighbors, instead may have made things worse. Just across the county line, businesses can allow smoking if they don't allow customers under 18. Smokers are now concentrated in a few businesses, siphoned off from forcibly smoke-free businesses catering to similar clientele.
If Columbia County repeals its ban, the state law would still be in effect. Wren says he'd lose some of his younger players, but believes business would pick up if he restricted entry to 18-older customers and allowed smoking. It can't do any worse, he says.
Full-service restaurants aren't likely to make any changes; they're finding that being smoke-free attracts family business.
But families, generally, aren't going to hang out in a pool room. With admission restricted to adults, anyone old enough to enter a business that allows smoking will be old enough to know smoking is bad for them. They're also old enough to decide for themselves whether to take that risk, and a repeal of the county ordinance will grant them that ability. It might also rescue a few business owners just trying to make a legal living.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.