Frank Powell only spoke for five minutes, but his few words sparked a debate in McDuffie County. It's a debate that has already raged next door in Columbia and Richmond Counties.
Dr. Powell, a Thomson-based physician, asked the McDuffie County Commission to adopt a ban on smoking in public buildings during the Nov. 16 commission meeting. His speech was the culmination of a month of gathering momentum in favor of the ban.
"I would suggest that a great majority of the population is in favor of a smoking ban," Dr. Powell told commissioners.
During his speech, Dr. Powell explained that the sectioning of restaurants has been a failure in his view and that the status quo is putting non-smokers and children at risk for behavior they have no control over.
"We know that doesn't work," he said of having smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants. "There's not a separation."
He also said the get-up-and-leave approach that has been suggested by those opposed to the ban is not viable for non-smokers when a smoker sits next to them. He asked, "What do I do when I'm not finished with my meal?"
Dr. Powell added that "Everyone in the health field is for this." He said it has become a public health issue and that it is time McDuffie County act to protect the health and well being of its citizens.
Commission Chairman Charlie Newton said the proposed ban would be discussed at the next work session on Nov. 29. He said if the other commissioners indicated they were willing to consider the proposal, public hearings would then be scheduled.
"I think folks here will be reasonable enough to entertain it," Mr. Newton told Dr. Powell during the meeting.
In lieu of a simple up or down vote, commissioners will discuss several options during the work session. One possible option is to have a partial ban, Mr. Newton said. Restaurant areas would be off limits for smokers, but a closed off bar area would still allow smoking.
Mr. Newton voiced his concern about the economic impact on businesses in the county. He said further research will need to be done to find out if a ban in other communities of similar size has negatively affected the food and beverage industry.
"I know there's a negative side to the smoke," Mr. Newton said, "but there may be a good compromise."
One compromise Dr. Powell suggested was to put the proposed ban to a public vote. Mr. Newton said an election would not be economically feasible as it would cost $10,000.
The issue could be tacked on to an already existing ballot at little extra cost, but the next county-wide election is two years away. Also, Mr. Newton fears that few would show up for a vote on a single issue.