Upstate City's Smoking Law to Hit Festivals

7:05 AM, Aug 24, 2012   |    comments
Smokers who want to light up will have to step outside the boundaries of the Labor Day Family Fun Festival in Simpsonville. The event is expected to bring more than 20,000 people to downtown (GreenvilleOnline)
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Simpsonville, SC (written by Paul Alogni/GreenvilleOnline) -- A law that will ban smoking in Simpsonville's bars and restaurants will also have an immediate impact on some of the city's biggest tourism draws, including a festival that begins Sept. 1, the same day the ordinance goes into effect.

Bars and restaurants received much of the attention in the battle over the ordinance last spring, but several other areas are also covered, including amphitheaters and special events on public streets or city property.

Smokers who want to light up will have to step outside the boundaries of the Labor Day Family Fun Festival, an event expected to bring more than 20,000 people to downtown. Smoking will also be prohibited when 11 bands take the stage for a rock music festival at Charter Amphitheater on Sept. 5.

Next Memorial Day weekend, smoking will be banned from Freedom Weekend Aloft, a festival that draws crowds estimated at 150,000 over four days.

Mayor Perry Eichor, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said the city will not have "anti-smoking police" looking for law-breakers.

"That's pretty low on our priorities," he said. "But if somebody makes a complaint then, of course, we have to check into it."

City Council passed its smoking ordinance in April on a 4-3 vote that gave businesses four months to prepare.

Violators risk fines of $10 to $25. Businesses that allow smoking face the same fines and could have their occupancy permits and business licenses suspended or revoked for repeated violations.

The Simpsonville law is virtually identical to the one in Greenville that stood up to a state Supreme Court challenge, helping open the door to local smoking ordinances statewide.

Proponents have celebrated the laws as victories against second-hand smoke, while opponents argued they infringe on private property rights and could drive customers to bars and restaurants where smoking is still allowed.

Simpsonville is among 43 municipalities and five counties across the state that have passed comprehensive smoking ordinances, most including bars and restaurants, according to the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative, a group that advocates for smoking restrictions.

Advocates are hoping that support will build for a statewide law as local ordinances spread, said collaborative Executive Director Louis Eubank.

About 38 percent of the state's population lives or works in areas with comprehensive smoking ordinances, he said.

"Once you get closer to half or just over half of the population, then you can start looking at what we want to do on a statewide basis," Eubank said.

Tara Roberts said that she has been telling customers at Two Berts bar that the Simpsonville ordinance is coming. While some don't like it, she believes loyalty will keep them coming back after it goes into effect.

"As long as they get a decent drink and a good atmosphere, they'll still show," said Roberts, a bartender.

Simpsonville officials are now hanging signs at city-owned venues affected by the ordinance, while leaving it up to individual businesses to notify their customers, said City Administrator Russell Hawes.

Still to be determined is whether the city will create designated smoking areas outside Charter Amphitheatre, he said.

On the day the law goes into effect, carnival rides will open on Main Street for the weekend's Labor Day Family Fun Festival.

The festival area will be small enough that smokers should have no problem walking outside the boundaries to smoke, said Allison McGarity, development coordinator for the Simpsonville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier proposals to ban smoking in bars and restaurants statewide have been turned back.

While 23 states have smoke-free laws covering bars, restaurants and other workplaces, much of the legislation across the South has been at the local level, where citizens often have more of a voice, according to the California-based American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

"What we have found with respect to these smoke-free laws is that local leads the way," said Cynthia Hallett, the foundation's executive director.

The Simpsonville smoking prohibition extends beyond bar and restaurant walls to any outdoor decks, balconies and patios when in use for entertainment or consumption of food and beverages.

A private club owner in July went to City Council with questions about whether she could have an outdoor smoking area where customers could also bring their drinks. Eichor told her that council members would discuss it.

He later told that the council decided not to change the ordinance for fear of opening the door to so many changes that it would no longer be worth having at all.

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