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SC high court to hear smoking ban challenge

Publication Date: 2008-01-08
  • Publication:Beaufort Gazette, SC

The power of cities and towns to ban indoor public smoking in South Carolina will be called into question before the state's highest court this week, and its decision has the potential to quash smoking bans already in effect across the state.

The argument to be heard by the South Carolina Supreme Court stems from an appeal by the city of Greenville, which had a smoking ban that went into effect a year ago. The city levied $50 fines against smokers who lit up in prohibited areas and $200 fines against businesses that allowed them to puff away. Dozens of bars and restaurants sued, saying the ban would hurt business.

In March, Judge John C. Few ended the ban. He ruled such bans are a legislative issue and cited a 1996 state law that he said prevented local governments from creating their own rules on smoking. Few's ruling contradicted a decision handed down several months earlier by Judge Deadra Jefferson, who in December 2006 dismissed a similar challenge to a ban on Sullivans Island, saying state law did not dissuade municipalities from regulating smoking.

The Supreme Court hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, deals only with the Greenville case but experts said it has the potential to affect smoking bans across the state.

"If the Supreme Court says that this area of the law is pre-empted by the state, and individual cities and towns cannot make those types of laws, then that would have statewide application," said Charleston attorney Paul Dominick, who represents the owner of a Sullivans Island bar who challenged the ruling there.

Smokers and elected officials in Bluffton, Beaufort County and on Hilton Head Island have waited a year for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue to see if the local bans will be affected.