On Sept. 21, the Columbia County Commission approved a ban on smoking in public buildings. Richmond County is currently considering similar measures. That left some McDuffie residents wondering if the same thing could happen here.
If a local doctor and his supporters have any say in the matter, McDuffie County will be the next in line to pass a clean air ordinance that would keep smoke out of restaurants, stores and all other public facilities.
Dr. Frank Powell will be addressing the McDuffie County Commission during its Nov. 16 meeting. He already has the support of McDuffie Regional Medical Center and its medical staff and will ask the Health Department for its support as well.
"It needs to be done," Dr. Powell said "I got the idea when I was seeing Richmond County and Columbia County, all the brouhaha that they were going through, and I said, 'Well, you know that's something that we ought to be doing anyway here.'"
Commission Chairman Charlie Newton said he is open to hearing the proposal for a smoking ban in public buildings. He also said he wanted more information before the board brought it to a vote.
"I don't know what to think about it at this point," Mr. Newton said. "Smoking is a health hazard. I think that's been proven. ... It's just going to take some careful study before we jump out there."
Mr. Newton said he is not quite convinced it is the government's place to dictate whether businesses should allow smoking or not. He went on to say that businesses can utilize a self-imposed smoking ban but that some don't because they are afraid of declining sales.
Mr. Newton wants to discuss the matter with the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce and several business owners to find out their stance on the proposed ban. Chamber of Commerce Director Carolyn Gilbert said she is a supporter of the idea.
"Second-hand smoke kills you. I love to go to a restaurant that has no smoke in it," Mrs. Gilbert said. "I think it would be excellent because people would be more apt to go into places if they knew they weren't going to have second-hand smoke. And if they can do it in New York City, why can't we do it here?"
Local restaurant owner Jose Granados said he would prefer the matter be left up to the voters of McDuffie County rather than the Commission.
"If they put it up for a vote, I don't have any problem with it if it gets passed," said Mr. Granados, owner of Amigos Restaurant. "But if it's done by only the commissioners, then I'm going to have a problem with it."
Mr. Granados said if the ban passes like it has in many other areas, patrons would still have a place to smoke outside the building. He said that idea has worked well for smokers elsewhere.
"My sister has two restaurants near Atlanta," he said. "The one in Gwinett County is smoke free. ... They allow you a little area 25 feet outside, and people don't have any problem with that."
Some local people have already jumped on in support of the proposal, even before it has been presented to commissioners.
"I don't think you should be able to smoke in a restaurant because you may have someone sitting next to you on oxygen that can't tolerate it," said Thomson resident Rosemary Register.
But Mr. Newton made it clear that all sides would be heard in this debate before a decision was made -- something he feels will have to come sooner rather than later.
"We're going to listen to the folks, and I imagine they will continue to push it pretty hard," Mr. Newton said. "So we're going to be forced to take a position before too long, but right now I'm leaving myself wide open."