Lexington mayor seeks to soften smoking ban

Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre wants to relax town smoking limits to allow lighting up on decks and patios at bars and restaurants.

The change would make town restrictions the same as those in nearby communities.

"We want to be in concert with everyone else," Halfacre said. "We don't need a confusing checkerboard of restrictions."

The town limits bar food and drink service where smoking occurs.

The change Halfacre suggests is one some businesses want, after they say they have lost customers to competitors in areas where smoking decks and patios are permitted.

"If they say it's OK, I'll definitely do that," said Joe Biedrycki, owner of The Dog House bar in Lexington. "My business really got hurt by not having it."

Smokers come inside at The Dog House for snacks and drinks, then go outside to puff away on a patio marked to show where it is allowed, he said.

But others no longer drop in, saying doing that is onerous, he said.

The bar's revenue fell $200,000 in the past year, a reduction Biedrycki blames more on the ban than a struggling economy.

Other town leaders aren't sure about softening the ban, in effect since October 2008, out of concern the change would create health hazards for workers.

"I have questions about that," Councilwoman Hazel Tyndall said. "I'm willing to take a look at the idea, but we need to make sure it's not going to create problems."

Outdoor smoking decks and patios should be allowed only if it's clear there is "no significant danger" for workers, said Councilman Ted Stambolitis.

Stambolitis is a restaurateur who pushed for Lexington to be among the first in the area to limit workplace smoking.

The S.C. Tobacco Collaborative - an anti-smoking group - can live with lighting up on decks and patios, director Louis Eubank said.

"As long as there is protection against outdoor smoking coming indoors, this change is not a major issue to us," he said.