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BLUFFTON -- The indoor smoking ban wave continued to waft through the county as a divided Bluffton Town Council narrowly decided Tuesday to outlaw lighting up in most workplaces.'
Beginning Jan. 10, smoking will be prohibited inside most businesses -- including bars and restaurants -- in both Bluffton and unincorporated parts of Beaufort County.'
Hilton Head Island is now the only place in the southern portion of the county without such a law, even though it was the first to propose one. But those days may be numbered: A majority of its council members have said they will support the ban when it comes up for a vote on Dec. 19.'
Bluffton's measure passed 3-2, with council members Lisa Sulka and Lucille Mitchell voting against it. Comments from the public and a handful of anti-smoking groups were echoed by council members on both sides of the debate.'
For the majority who supported the ban, the deciding factor was workplace safety, especially for bar and restaurant employees.'
"A lot of folks, particularly at the bottom of the economic scale, don't have a lot of choice where to work," said Jacob Preston, the town's mayor pro tem. "I think our job is to speak for those folks who are reluctant to speak for themselves."'
The county ban -- which passed Monday night -- also influenced the decision.'
Preston feared an enforcement nightmare if Bluffton didn't follow suit because of meandering town boundaries. Smokers might flood Bluffton, making its bars and restaurants unpleasant for nonsmokers, said Mayor Hank Johnston.'
Both Mitchell and Sulka contended the ban was too intrusive. Businesses should be able to make their own decision on whether to go smoke-free, they said.'
"We're getting into people's business," said Sulka. "This is a private matter. Business owners should step up and say they're not going to allow smoking, if that's what they choose."'
Bluffton smokers can be fined up to $500 and face up to 30 days in jail for breaking the law.'
As it was written earlier, it was unclear whether the smoker or the business would face an automatic $500 fine.'
A second change gives Bluffton's municipal court magistrates more latitude to factor in a person's income and the severity of the violation, said town attorney Terry Finger.'
Councilman Fred Hamilton Jr. also added an exception that would let bars or restaurants allow smoking if they create a room with separate entrances, facilities, ventilation systems and bathrooms.'
"They would have that option or else they'd be smoke-free," he said.'
Other exemptions to Bluffton's ban include retail tobacco shops, religious ceremonies and hotels with designated smoking rooms. People can continue to smoke at home, unless they're licensed to provide child care, healthcare or adult day care in their houses.'
Smokers lighting up outside would have to be a "reasonable" distance from entrances, ventilation systems and open windows to ensure smoke doesn't enter the building.'
Businesses would be required to post no-smoking signs.'
Those business not able to immediately comply with the ban could apply for a 90-day waiver.'
Police officers will be in charge of enforcement.