Why North Charleston should ban smoking in public places
BY DWIGHT STIGLER
North Charleston City Council is currently considering a smoking ordinance. This isn’t about big government taking our rights away, as some have shallowly framed their argument. This is about what our constituents want, as a whole.
In fact, 69 percent of North Charleston residents polled want this ordinance, according to a survey by the S.C. Tobacco Collaborative.
Seven other municipalities within our tri-county area have no-smoking ordinances, and that demonstrates that the vast majority of citizens throughout the Lowcountry favor smoke-free air in public places.
This is a health issue, too. Everyone deserves a right to breathe clean air. Why should the supposed smoker “rights” of the 30 percent outweigh and infringe on the rights of the 70 percent who want clean air in restaurants, bars and workplaces? My impression is that most habitual smokers agree that the ill effects of their second-hand smoke should not be passed onto others in public places.
To those who say this is somehow “un-American” or infringes on individual rights, I ask where in the U.S. Constitution or in the constitution of respect for your neighbor is there a right for smokers to violate the space of others with the scientifically documented harmful effects of second-hand smoke?
This is clearly a smoker entitlement mentality that is obstinate to the majority that wants to breathe clean air in public places. It seems that many opponents of a smoking ban inaccurately grasp the conservatively politically correct attitude that smoking is a personal right and personal rights should not be limited. This is self-serving, dismissive of the broader concerns for public health and just wrong. It is the simplistic expression of the minority attempting to control the clear best interest of the majority.
Others argue, “What next?” My City Council colleague, Ed Astle, suggested “sweet tea,” and a recent Brian Hicks column in the Post and Courier suggested “Hooters girls.” How silly and simplistic, and why insult Hooters girls?
It is documented that smoking creates secondary health hazards. One smoker can affect the health of many non-smokers. The negative effects of eating a Big Mac or drinking sweet tea, if there are any, are limited to the consumer. Smokers in public places are damaging and threatening the health of others. They might have a right to smoke at home and jeopardize themselves and their families, but how can anyone claim such a right in a public place?
Here’s another argument: If the carcinogenic chemicals given off by second-hand smoke are so bad, why doesn’t the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulate them?
They aren’t regulated by OSHA and they should be. Congress has been wrongly influenced by the tobacco industry to avoid this reality. That becomes the best premise of all for North Charleston to pass a smoke-free ordinance. The feds have failed us. Let us not fail ourselves and our city. Smoking is hazardous to anyone who does it.
The process of self-harm goes far beyond the individual smoker when that smoker chooses to exercise his or her “rights” in an environment that violates the rights of others to breathe smoke-free air.
Permitting this to happen to other individuals in public places, including employees, is not a point of individual rights, it is un-American.
Here is the bottom line as I see it: Smoking is a dangerous habit that will harm others.
Let’s rise above the shallow arguments that individual rights allow smokers to pollute the healthy environments of others in public spaces.
We need an ordinance for the majority of our citizens who want protection against second-hand smoke. The responsibility of government is to respond. It is time for North Charleston to do the right thing and pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance.
Dwight Stigler represents District 9 on North Charleston City Council.