Court ruling could prompt review of local smoking bans

April 5, 2008 

Beaufort County's smoking ban, which includes possible jail time, differs from the smoking ban upheld by the S.C. Supreme Court on Monday.

Part of the decision Monday that gave local government the right to pass smoking bans in public places said it is unconstitutional to "criminalize conduct." However, some local smoking bans do just that.

Only state law can make an infraction criminal, in that a possible penalty would include jail time.

Smoking bans in both Beaufort County and Bluffton say that people found in violation can be fined up to $500 and face up to 30 days in jail, making it a criminal matter.

Gary Kubic, Beaufort county administrator, said the county may reevaluate its ordinance but that he had not examined the court decision.

"Quite frankly, we've had little objections (to the ordinance)," Kubic said. "If it can improve our ordinance, we'll sure look at it."

Bluffton town attorney Terry Finger said he has not yet read the state's ruling. He said he plans to read the decision and assess Bluffton's ordinance next week.

Other nearby governments have their own versions of a smoking ban-- some with criminal punishments and others civil, meaning fines.

Beaufort city manager Scott Dadson said the city will probably follow the court case when drafting its smoking ban. The city considered a smoking ban a year ago, but never took action pending the court decision.

"The council has already discussed (a smoking ban) amongst themselves. It will probably be on the agenda at the meeting after next," Dadson said, referring to the May 13 meeting.

Hilton Head Island attorney and codes enforcer Brian Hulbert said the town's smoking ban tracks with the Supreme Court decision.On Hilton Head, the fine for lighting up in a public place can be up to $500.

"Ours, as well, is a civil penalty," Hulbert said. "We believe ours is right in line."

Greenville, which had its ordinance upheld Monday partially because it was did not call for criminal penalties, terms a violation of its smoking ban an "infraction."

Island Packet staff writer Renee Dudley contributed to this report.

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