Columbia County will join cities and counties across the country in recognizing Thursday as the Great American Smokeout Day to urge smokers to drop the habit.
Though the county has officially recognized the day for many years, the American Cancer Society recognized Columbia County for being "smoke-free" five months ago, and the enactment of a strict smoking ban began two years ago.
In January 2005, Columbia County adopted a ban that prohibits smoking in public buildings, but exempts private clubs, retail tobacco stores and certain outdoor areas of employment.
A statewide smoking ban passed later by the Georgia General Assembly permits indoor smoking in public places that restrict access to persons under 18, or those with enclosed smoking rooms and independent ventilation systems. Columbia County is governed by the county's stricter ordinance.
County Commissioner Tommy Mercer was the driving force behind the county measure, and at a Nov. 7 commission meeting, he presented a proclamation to representatives of the American Cancer Society and Live Healthy CSRA in recognition of the Great American Smokeout Day.
In 2005, some in the area's hospitality industry and within the Columbia County Republican Party criticized Mercer, Commissioner Steve Brown and commission Chairman Ron Cross for voting to approve the ban.
Mercer said the effect on the health of nonsmokers, who amount to about 12 percent of smoke-related deaths, opened his eyes to the dangers. He said passage of the county's ban was "one of the greatest things to happen to Columbia County."
Tom Clark, the owner of Fatz Cafe in Evans, said the smoking ban has not had a negative effect on business.
"The only impact it has had is in a positive way," he said. "I don't think we've lost any guests because of it."
Chuck Large, the owner of SideTrack Bar and Grill, opposes the county's ban. With his Martinez business within a mile of Richmond County, he said many regular customers come less often or have left to find watering holes in Augusta, which is governed by the state's restrictions.
"To me, if Columbia County would have only abided by the state smoking ban, then we would be equal to Richmond County," Large said.
Large said his business has taken a significant hit since the county's indoor smoking ban was enacted.
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