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      Grand Strand town one step closer to smoking ban

      "Second hand smoke is just as bad if you pick up a cigarette and put in into your mouth," Atlantic Beach Mayor Pro Tem Charlene Taylor says.

      The Department of Health and Environmental Control says more needs to be done across Horry County and the state of South Carolina against smoking. Monday night, Smoke Free Horry (, a non-profit organization funded by national grant money, presented a plan for Atlantic Beach to go smoke free.

      Following that, the Atlantic Beach Town Council passed the first reading of a new ordinance that bans smoking in all public places.

      "It's to minimize impact of smoke on everyone," Atlantic Beach Town Manager William Booker says.

      "To give you an idea, the national percentage of smokers in 17 percent. In South Carolina, it's close to 20 percent. In Horry County, it's 28 percent," Mary-Kathryn Craft with DHEC says.

      "We're spending $565 per house hold for smoking related illnesses," Smoke Free Horry Spokesman George DuRant says.

      The town of Atlantic Beach is small. According to, fewer than 1,000 people live in the town. It isn't the first town to go smoke free. Surfside Beach also has a smoking ban. Smoke Free Horry wants each town, city and unincorporated area in Horry County to follow.

      The group was founded after a 2010 federal grant was extended to Horry County. Horry and Florence were among 44 communities selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to share $373 million to battle obesity and smoking. Horry received $2.3 million. Florence got $2 million. DHEC has oversight of Smoke Free Horry, but the money strictly comes from a federal grant.

      "Every year in South Carolina, some 800 people die of smoking related diseases, so we're trying to prevent that." Smoke Free Horry Director Larry White said in an interview in March 2010.

      South Carolina doesn't have a state law banning smoking. But Craft says it has been recognized for it's smoke free local ordinances. To date, 38 local communities have smoking bans in place.

      "TheU.S. Surgeon General has said there's no safe level of second hand smoke," Craft says. "Really the only way to protect from exposure is smoke free policy."

      Tobacco was once one of the top agricultural commodities in South Carolina. Last year, it brought in $68 million - eighth on the list of leading commodities.

      Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in South Carolina. Currently, 20 percent of South Carolina adults smoke cigarettes and 18.7 percent of the state's high school students report having smoked within the past 30 days, according to DHEC.

      "Progress being made, there still is work to be done." Craft says.

      The state of North Carolina issued a ban last year.

      Atlantic Beach will take up a second reading, which officials expect to pass, at their next meeting March 7th.

      "I think in the next six months, you'll see Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Loris, every city doing this," Booker said.

      Do you think a smoking ban should be issued statewide or should it be left to the local governments or not at all? Leave your thoughts below.