SUMMERVILLE — Residents who want to spark up here may soon have to do so outside of public parks.
The town is considering a smoking ban that also would apply to downtown special events. Summerville banned smoking in restaurants and bars several years ago, but this ordinance would ban smoking at special functions, including the annual Flowertown Festival that draws thousands of guests every year, and the Italian Feast.
Officials are considering creating designated smoking areas at public parks with containers to dispose of cigarette butts. The ban could include e-cigarettes.
The issue will go before town council for an initial vote Thursday.
Local officials said complaints about second-hand smoke is what prompted their conversation.
Councilwoman Kima Garten-Schmidt, a member of Summerville's Parks and Recreation Committee who is spearheading the effort, said residents have griped about their children being exposed to tobacco smoke at playgrounds and community events.
At Third Thursdays, for example, some said they couldn't enjoy the good food and music at Hutchinson Square without inhaling second-hand smoke.
"If they stop to listen to a band, they’ve got people smoking all around them. Every fifth, sixth person is smoking," Garten-Schmidt said. "It becomes a health issue.”
Garten-Schmidt noted that the the town wants to promote healthier living.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reports that 20 percent of adults in South Carolina smoked cigarettes in 2016. More than 7,000 adults in South Carolina die annually from smoking-related illnesses.
In addition to health concerns, litter is also frustrating town officials. Their beautification committee scoured about two blocks around Town Hall last December and collected almost 1,500 cigarette butts in less than two hours, Committee Chair Heather Johnson said.
"The cigarettes in Summerville are as prevalent as mulch," Johnson said.
Johnson hopes that a ban would keep people from throwing cigarette butts on the ground. When volunteers pick up litter, Johnson often tells them to ignore cigarette butts because it'd be too exhausting to collect them all. Her committee is considering handing out pocket ashtrays at the next Flowertown Festival to discourage littering.
Residents and local officials also are concerned about the example that smoking sets for children. A former smoker herself, Johnson said she would make sure children were out of site before she lit up.
"I truly understand both sides," Johnson said.
Garten-Schmidt said she remembers her three sons being around second-hand smoke at crowded Flowertown Festivals years ago.
"It's time to stop and look at things and say, 'Hey, what are we doing to our bodies?' " she said.
Garten-Schmidt said she hasn't received any opposition yet but she expects some. If the ordinance were to pass, Garten-Schmidt said she thinks, over time, residents would embrace it.
Other municipalities, including Charleston, already have taken this step. Charleston City Council voted to ban smoking at public parks in May, and the ordinance takes effect this month.
Similar bans already are in place on the campuses of the Medical University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston and The Citadel.