MOULTRIE -- If the majority of recent callers to the Observer's "Rant and Rave" line had their way, the right to smoke in Moultrie restaurants would, well, go up in smoke.

And many smokers and restaurant owners who rely on smokers to pay their bill say they'd be OK with it.

Patrick Bius, co-owner of Vern and Fireball's Blue Sky Grill, said a non-smoking ordinance is "the kind of thing I would like, but I don't want to support."

The reason for Bius's hesitance is his business has a bar. And often, where there's alcohol, there's tobacco.

A runner, Bius said he doesn't smoke, but many of his customers do, so he won't vocally endorse a smoking ban, but "if it happens out of my control, I would enjoy it," he said.

Joel Norwood, general manager at Shoney's, is a smoker. But he said going outside to light up doesn't bother him. A non-smoking ordinance "wouldn't make any difference to me," he said.

Actually, Norwood said he's expecting his restaurant to eventually go smoke-free -- and since he's heard complaints from non-smokers about smoking sections with essentially invisible barriers, "the only good answer is to have the building non-smoking."

Jennifer McMurphy is also a smoker, but she says having to go outside a restaurant to smoke would fire her up.

"I think that restaurants that have a smoking section have a smoking section for a reason," McMurphy said at Shoney's Thursday. "If people come here and know there's a smoking section, they shouldn't be griping."

Ron Lawhorne of Moultrie enjoyed a beer Wednesday afternoon at a Moultrie billiard parlor. The pool hall's owner didn't want to comment, but Lawhorne said where smoking bans are concerned, officials should realize "there's a lot of difference in a restaurant and a bar."

Does that mean he's OK with bars and pool halls allowing smoking and not restaurants? Absolutely.

"This is the last place smokers have to go," Lawhorne said.

Moultrie mayor Bill McIntosh recalls a time not too many years ago when a smoking ban was on city council's agenda, but it was eventually snuffed out. Now, though, "there's a lot more awareness and a lot more feeling one way or another on both sides about it," McIntosh said.

The mayor, like Norwood, believes the issue is a matter of evolution and that sooner or later, people won't be able to smoke in restaurants just like they can't in public buildings like City Hall.

Councilman Wayne Cooper remembers getting lots of calls from people against a smoking ban the last time a non-smoking ordinance was on the table.

He, like McIntosh, said getting an ordinance on the table again rests on his constituents, but that if a restaurateur wanted to ban smoking in his establishment, he doesn't have to wait on the city.

The issue seems to make most uneasy those managers and owners of businesses that have a great deal of smokers come in and out of their businesses. Two owners and one manager contacted by The Observer declined comment about a future smoking ban.

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