Bucking a popular state and national trend in recent years, the Georgetown Town Council voted unanimously last week to protect the rights ofl&m smokers at the town’s publicly owned outdoor areas, including the historic circle in the center of the Sussex County Seat.

The 5-0 vote allows smokers to continue lighting up in outdoor areas owned by the town, including The Circle, Wilson Park and Kimmey Street Park.

“The act of buying and smoking cigarettes is still legal in this country and, as long as it is, I have a problem with banning smoking in public areas,” says Georgetown Mayor Brian Pettyjohn. “Smokers have rights to, just as nonsmokers do. Somebody should have the right to smoke, just as you have the right to walk away if they’re offending you.”

The first reading of the proposed ordinance was considered during the Wednesday, June 8 meeting of the Georgetown Town Council. If adopted, the program would have been paid for through a grant from the Delaware Division of Public Health, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But Pettyjohn and Councilwoman Sue Barlow voiced concerns with the ordinance. While acknowledging the obvious public health concerns associated with smoking, each have consistently taken stands in the past with the issue of what they perceive as government overregulation.

“Where are we going to draw the line? When are we going to say that there is personal responsibility that has to come into play,?” says Pettyjohn. “If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, that’s your choice. But if you don’t, that’s your choice as well. We’re all adults and we can make those choices for ourselves.”

Nearly every day of the year, The Circle and other public areas throughout Georgetown provide enough space for smokers and nonsmokers to coexist. But there are several days a year when large crowds gather in the heart of Sussex County for various events.

How does the town’s policy of tolerance work during the biennial Return Day celebration, or every December during Georgetown’s popular Christmas parade?

There have been no major issues in the past, but might there be in the future?

“I’m an optimist, and I just feel that if you’re a good citizen and you tell someone that the cigarette smoke is bothering you, that they would try to find another place to stand,” says Pettyjohn. “I think most people are decent enough where they would put the cigarette out and not smoke again. And if they don’t, you can walk around to find another area.”

Only Pettyjohn and Barlow offered official comments on the proposed ordinance during open session last week, but all five members of the council voted to not ban smoking in Georgetown’s outdoor public areas.

The issue of smoking in the First State has been a hot button topic since Delaware adopted one of the nation’s toughest anti-smoking laws in 2002. Dubbed the “Clean Indoor Air Act,” the legislation banned smoking in bars and restaurants, as well as at the state’s three casinos.

Many states have followed suit in the near decade since, with the obvious trend to ban the act of smoking in the interest of public health. Many organizations have even banned the act of lighting up in outdoor areas, including many schools and medical facilities.

Earlier this year, commissioners in Rehoboth Beach passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking at the beach resort’s parks and playgrounds, but did stop short of banning the activity on the beach or on the boardwalk.

In 2008, nearby Bethany Beach became the first in Delaware to ban smoking on a public beach, as well as on the town’s boardwalk. But, with last week’s vote, Georgetown officials have decided to take a stand and are prepared to live with that decision.

“This is just a case of government going a little too far in trying to protect us from ourselves,” says Pettyjohn. “For the people who don’t smoke, I realize that you want an environment that’s free of cigarette smoke. But if you’re very passionate about that, maybe you should work toward getting cigarettes outlawed completely. But right now it’s legal, and smokers have rights to.”