Those in favor of a smoke-free county will soon get a chance to make their case.
McDuffie County Commissioners decided at their Nov. 29 work session to hold a public hearing for further input on the proposed smoking ban in public buildings. Local physician Frank Powell spoke at the Nov. 16 commission meeting representing a group in favor of the ban.
In an informal poll, commissioners said they were willing to listen to the group led by Dr. Powell and other McDuffie County health professionals. But Commission Chairman Charlie Newton made it clear he was not convinced a total ban was in the best interest of businesses.
A possible counter proposal by Chairman Newton would allow smoking in bars and separated lounge areas but outlaw smoking in all restaurants. It would also require Dr. Powell and his supporters to collect petition signatures from restaurant owners in support of the ban.
"If an overwhelming majority of restaurant owners would like a smoking ban, I would think I would be willing to consider it on that level," Chairman Newton said during the work session.
He added that his talks with local restaurant owners have led him to be in favor of further discussion.
"I've had some restaurant owners tell me ... they would be in favor of a smoking ban, but they're not willing to jump out there by themselves because they don't want to lose their customers," he said.
Other commissioners weighed in on the issue during the work session as well. Commissioner Bob Farr said he thinks the decision to be smoke-free or not should be left up to the business owners, but others said discussion on the ban should continue.
"I think we need to listen," said Commissioner Sammy Wilson.
Commissioner Fred Favors already has strong feelings on the issue. "I'm allergic to cancer," he said. "Breathing is a personal freedom. I like it."
Epp Wilson, owner of White Columns stated during the work session that he would support Chairman Newton's version of the ban because his restaurant was already in compliance. He added that a smoking ban would be difficult to enforce in bar and lounge areas.
"We wouldn't have any reservation about it. We would be glad to support it," Mr. Wilson said.
Commissioners talked about asking Dr. Powell to address leaders from both the city of Thomson and the county at their January retreat in Athens. But per a request from Commissioner Favors, a hearing will be held in McDuffie County so that residents and local business owners can participate.
No date has been set for the public hearing, but commissioners agreed that one should be set soon.