McDuffie County commis-sioners have a tough decision before them.
A group of local residents -- led by physician Frank Powell -- hope to build on the momentum of about 20 other Georgia communities and ban smoking in public buildings in McDuffie County.
We encourage McDuffie County commissioners -- regardless of their personal feelings -- to carefully study this issue. Since a ballot question is out of the question, commissioners should hold public hearings to gauge public opinion instead of simply dismissing the issue.
And we believe that if they hold the hearings and study the issue, there is only one decision commissioners should make: a smoking ban is needed in McDuffie County.
The public support is there: a 2002 Shapiro Research Group survey of 600 residents in McDuffie, Burke, Emanuel, Columbia and Richmond counties showed that 72 percent of those polled believe smoking should not be allowed indoors.
In the informal poll at McDuffieMirror.com, 60 percent of the people said they think commissioners should ban smoking.
The dangers of second-hand smoke are irrefutable, and studies have shown that banning smoking can actually be a boon to the economy. For proof, just look at New York, where bar permits are up by 234 and their business tax receipts are up 8.7 percent in the year after the ban took effect. Or look at Ireland, where pubs have become places for families to gather and listen to music. Or California, where taxable sales were up more than $8 billion over a two-year period after a smoking ban there.
Usually, we'd never recommend following the lead of places like New York or California, but they were right on this one.
Local commissioners already have a rough draft of an ordinance in their hands -- the "McDuffie County Smoke-free Air Act" submitted by Dr. Powell's group -- that calls for a total smoking ban.
That's the same tact taken in other communities, but we believe there's room for some compromise in McDuffie, so we recommend the ban come with some stipulations.
First, if a business creates a totally separate smoking area -- much like the bar at White Columns -- lighting-up should be allowed. The same goes for a separate outdoor eating area.
(And to be more specific, this would avoid the current smoking/non-smoking divisions of some restaurants, where the line is blurred and all the air is singed.)
Second, the ban should only be in effect until 10 p.m. at night. Such a timeframe would allow families, for example, to comfortably dine at restaurants, yet leave plenty of time for the late crowd to also enjoy the facilities.
These two caveats create a ban that is workable for local businesses and accommodating to both sides.
Banning smoking is not about infringing on the rights of people who choose to smoke. It is about the greater good of our community. And that's what we elect our county commissioners to protect.