Beaufort News

Could Beaufort County ban smoking outside of all buildings that get taxpayer money?

Sneaking out to the parking lot between classes at the Technical College of the Lowcountry for a quick cigarette? Smoke ’em if you got ’em, because you may not be able to in the future.

Beaufort County staff has proposed an expansion of the county’s smoking restrictions.

While smoking is already prohibited inside public buildings, the proposed code changes would ban smoking — as well as the use of electronic cigarettes — in outside areas adjacent to buildings such as parking lots and sidewalks.

The expanded ban would apply not only to county-owned buildings such as the courthouses and administration offices but also to all buildings managed by organizations that receive county funding.

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Those organizations would include locations such as the Penn Center, Beaufort Memorial Hospital and TCL, county attorney Tom Keveany said earlier this week when he presented the proposed code changes to the Beaufort County Council’s Community Services Committee.

“If you want county money, you are agreeing not to let people smoke on your campus or in your buildings,” he said of the proposed rule changes.

The proposal — despite being more strict than current regulations — is actually a scaled-back version of a previous draft of changes to the county smoking ordinance.

That draft, floated by county staff earlier this summer, came under heavy criticism from County Council members because it included provisions that could have been interpreted as banning smoking on county roadways — meaning drivers on streets such as Bluffton Parkway would be prohibited from smoking in their vehicles.

“We took a bruising” from County Council members when the earlier draft was presented, Keveany said.

“There was some criticism about the language being vague,” he said.

The proposed rule changes are being considered in response to complaints about secondhand smoke and about the perception that county employees who smoke get more breaks during the day than non-smokers, county officials say.

I don’t understand the logic, and I wonder if it is overreaching a little bit.

Beaufort County Councilman Stu Rodman

While County Council members have said they understand these concerns, some say the proposal is too restrictive.

“I’m not a smoker, but it seems to me that its arguable whether we ought to extend (restrictions) to every individual property that (the county) gives money to,” Councilman Stu Rodman said earlier this week. “I don’t understand the logic, and I wonder if it is overreaching a little bit.”

Councilman Tabor Vaux said banning smoking completely on county-owned or funded properties is just “going to make (visitors and employees) mad.”

He suggested the county establish designated smoking areas well away from building entrances and exits to minimize the potential impact of secondhand smoke.

“I don’t think that it’s up to us to force somebody not to (smoke), even if we might want to,” Vaux said.

County staff said they will take County Council members’ comments into account and potentially amend the proposed rule changes before reintroducing to a committee or the full council.