Bar owner sues over smoking ban

A patron flicks ashes at Richard's Bar and Grille last month. (FILE PHOTO)

Richard Ruth hopes a lawsuit he filed will reverse Charleston County’s indoor smoking ban and keep his business from being snuffed out.

Ruth, owner of Richard’s Bar & Grill on U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant, said he filed his lawsuit Thursday, hoping to stop the ban, which will go into effect Oct. 4 in unincorporated parts of the county.

“It disenfranchises my customers,” Ruth said. “It’s prohibition. That’s what it is.”

County administrator Kurt Taylor said he and other staffers will stand by the ban. “County Council has adopted an ordinance and we will defend the ordinance.”

Ruth said he addressed County Council during public comment sessions before the ban was passed. But members just weren’t listening. “Talking to them was like watching paint dry,” he said.

He also said he sent out two petitions for his customers, one for those opposed to the ban and another for those in favor of it. He had 600 signatures opposed and only 12 in favor of it, he said.

Legal opposition to local smoking bans hasn’t fared well in the Palmetto State. The S.C. Supreme Court twice in 2008 upheld the right of cities and towns to ban indoor smoking in public places.

One of those cases was launched by Bert’s Bar, which was fighting the area’s first smoking ban on Sullivan’s Island. The high court also shot down a case in Greenville.

But Ruth is going to keep fighting for his rights as a business owner and his customers’ rights to light up indoors. “What’s next?” Ruth asked. “What if someone who is a teetotaler wants to come in my bar and ban drinking?”

And he’s willing to fight long and hard.

“I’ll go to court two or three times if I have to,” he said. “I have no plans of laying down.”

He can’t predict whether he will be successful, but the effort will be worth it if it conveys his message to County Council, he said. “This ought to give them food for thought.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.