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Charleston smoking ban still faces challenges in Columbia

Publication Date: 2008-02-27
  • Publication:Charleston City Paper

State Challenges

In January, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on the Greenville ban. Expected later this year, the decision on that case should give municipalities and the legislature a clear picture of how the court sees local smoking ordinances.

Chief Justice Jean Toal asked Greenville's lawyers during questioning whether the city had the right to go further than state law on things like prohibition. Their response was that smoking bans don't contradict state law like a prohibition on alcohol would. Toal's question alone was enough to raise speculation that the court could side with bar owners.

"I would imagine the court asks tough questions of both sides," says Dan Carrigan of the Charleston-based Smoke-Free South Carolina, who has tried to do his own crystal ball gazing to determine where the court will land — with no clear answer. "I'm finding it's a fool's game."

With the decision likely to either reinforce the existing smoking bans or cast the entire lot into doubt, Carrigan says Smoke-Free is ready to take the fight in one of two directions. If the ban is upheld, they'll take the fight to new municipalities.

"There are a lot (of governing bodies) who are waiting right now on the Supreme Court before they proceed," he says.

If the ban is struck down, the group will head to Columbia to get the legislature to fix it. That job is going to be made difficult by the army of tobacco lobbyists who have settled roots in the halls of the Statehouse. Tobacco giant RJ Reynolds nearly tripled the money it was spending on lobbyists in 2006 and 2007, according to a recent Hilton Head Island Packet report.

"You have to wonder what they're getting for that money," Carrigan says.

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