Four years later, Surfside Beach adjusts to smoking ban

North Myrtle Beach City Council is scheduled to take a final vote Monday on an ordinance that would ban smoking in public buildings. If it passes, North Myrtle Beach would not be the first Grand Strand community to ban smoking.

Surfside Beach did it in 2008. Surfside Beach town leaders and some business owners like it, while others say it has cost them a lot of business and money. But all seem to agree that it would be better if every town in the area offered the same level playing field.

At the Surfside Bowling Center, Monday was a busy day for league bowling. The bowling alley's manager said business in the lounge hasn't been nearly as good as it used to be, before the town enacted its indoor smoking ban.

Otis Blakeney said when people drink, they want to smoke and if they can't do it in this town, they'll just go to the next town.

"So we lose all those people who used to come here. They go to Myrtle Beach and then they go to Garden City to smoke. It kills our sales tremendously," Blakeney said.

Blakeney said his lounge business is off as much as 70 percent since the smoking ban went into effect.

The owner of Hamburger Joe's Restaurant said the ban hasn't really affected his business much, but that doesn't mean he likes it.

He thinks smoking ought to be an individual choice.

"When you start getting the government involved in telling you what you can and can't do, I don't ever see that being a good idea," said Durwood Early.

Surfside town councilman Mark Johnson said, as a small business owner himself, he understands that feeling. Johnson and his wife operate a Murrells Inlet insurance agency.

But Johnson is in favor of the law, because he said a smoking ban is a health issue, for restaurant customers and employees.

He said some businesses in town were wary until they adjusted to the law. Now, he said, most are in favor of it.

"I've got nothing but positive feedback. Some people like I said were negative at the beginning because they did not know what to expect. Some businesses have made adjustments, but it's all been positive," Johnson said.

Johnson said state lawmakers should take the lead and pass a statewide smoking ban, like North Carolina, Virginia and other states. He believes it's just a matter of time before South Carolina joins the non-smoking club.

Timmonsville town leaders will vote Tuesday on a possible ban.