Smoking ban 

Butts Out: City of Charleston smoking ban begins July 23

Say goodbye to the cloudy days of bar hopping. Leave that pick-up line about "needing a light" at home. Beginning July 23, the citywide smoking ban will be the law of the land and ugly people will have to rely solely on the darkness (no longer having the smoky haze) to insure they get laid.

Approved in January, the ordinance is actually a broader ban on workplace smoking, but the intent was clearly to purge watering holes near and far of the nicotine-juiced accessory that has, until now, gone great with a cocktail or cold beer. Instead of ashtrays, smokers will find signs at the door that clearly (though certainly not in any way attractively) warn the building is smoke-free.

The city has developed a website for patron and business owners with a copy and summary of the ordinance, frequently asked questions, and suggested models for no-smoking signs and a no-smoking policy, both mandatory under the city's ordinance. The city will also be sending out letters to all businesses with no-smoking stickers they can use for the front of the business.

"We're trying to take some proactive measures to help businesses get in compliance," says city lawyer Susan Herdina.

Though the city may be excited, some bar owners are still lamenting the lost good times with good cigarettes their patrons paid good money for that's now being curtailed by the man.

"We're going to have to comply, but we're still not very happy about it," says Eric Frank, one of the owners of the King Street Grille. A lawsuit by Frank and other bar and tobacco shop owners suggests that "not very happy" is a bit of an understatement. The suit is still moving through the courts, but with other municipalities facing similar challenges, it's likely to require intervention from the state Supreme Court.

In the meantime, get a good air freshener for your car, smokers, because that's just about the only place you're going to be able to smoke. While the city had tried to make a rule putting smokers 15 feet from the door to any business, the impracticality of enforcement in a downtown area (you'd be putting smokers in the middle of the street) led the city to demur to a mere "reasonable distance." That means you can stand where it can't be reasonably assumed that smoke could enter the building.

The city has cigarette receptacles peppered downtown, but Herdina says they may install more if demand shows it's necessary. In the meantime, the city hopes business owners will take up that responsibility, if necessary, to benefit their employees and patrons.

Enforcement isn't going to be very proactive (no ciggy stings), but citizens can lodge complaints online, with the city ombudsman, or through the police's non-emergency number. That's not to say officers won't issue citations (at potentially $1,087 a pop) if they're patrolling and see violators.

The one question that remains unanswered: What to do with the ashtrays? I've got two words for you: public art.


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