Richard Ruth is afraid that a smoking ban a key Charleston County committee approved Thursday would harm business at his bar on U.S. Highway 17.
Richard’s Bar falls in a “doughnut hole.” That’s a pocket of unincorporated Charleston County, surrounded by the town of Mount Pleasant. The town already has a smoking ban.
County Council’s Finance Committee voted 8-1 to ban smoking in all unincorporated areas of the county. The ordinance must pass three readings at full County Council meetings before it would go into effect.
Ruth said he cares about the smokers and nonsmokers who come to his bar. And he has installed special ceiling fans to clear the air. Such policies should be left to businesses owners and their customers, he said.
He plans to fight the ban, he said. “I’ll be there with bells and whistles.”
Councilman Elliott Summey was the sole member to vote against sending the ban to full council. Council members Henry Darby, Dickie Schweers, Colleen Condon, Herb Sass, Vic Rawl, Anna Johnson, Teddie Pryor and Joe Qualey voted for it.
Snuffing out smoking in the largely rural unincorporated parts of the county will make it more difficult for residents to find places indoors where they can light up.
Smoking bans are spreading in Charleston County after Sullivan’s Island’s first-in-the-state ban in 2006.
Neither Dorchester nor Berkeley counties ban smoking, although Dorchester County Council considered it last year. The town of Summerville, however, has banned smoking.
Darby championed the smoking ban. He said he supports a ban mostly because it will protect employees. People have to work to earn a living, he said, and it’s unfair that some people have to put their health at risk to do that.
Materials provided to council members and the public prior to the meeting state that the ban would require employers to provide a smoke-free environment for all employees, which includes prohibiting smoking in all areas of workplaces. It also would require written copies of the policy to be distributed to all employees and to be posted in highly visible locations.
It would, however, allow certain exceptions. Smoking would be permitted in private residences; some rooms in hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts; retail tobacco stores; cigar bars; stage performances; religious ceremonies; and medical research facilities.
Darby said he thinks the move could set an example for other cities and towns in the county that have not yet instituted bans. “Hopefully, the municipalities will follow,” he said.
Councilman Dickie Schweers, whose district mostly lies east of the Cooper River, said he struggled with his decision, but decided to support the ban. He said he also is concerned about employees. “I don’t want to take away people’s rights,” he said, “but when they harm others, government has a role.”
Connie McCall for years has worked at the McClellanville Diner, which voluntarily banned smoking about a year ago.
The small restaurant falls in an unincorporated portion of the county, where the county ban on smoking will take effect if the plan gets final approval.
McCall, a smoker, said she supported the ban in the restaurant where she works on U.S. Highway 17 in the rural northeastern part of the county. The place just isn’t very big, she said. “There was no way to separate the smokers from the nonsmokers.”
She also supports a countywide ban.
Some of her longtime customers who were smokers were angry when the diner banned smoking, she said. But a city, town or county ban on smoking makes it easier for businesses to justify policy changes to their customers.
Some customers disappeared from the McClellanville Diner after its ban went into effect, McCall said. But most of them have since returned.
McCall thinks smoking bans quickly are becoming a standard part of modern life. “The county is behind,” she said.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.