Aubry Alexander says the odds of killing a proposed smoking ban for 10 blocks around downtown hospitals are slim to none.

But bravo to the Charleston City councilman for trying, because he’s right.

Roper Hospital and MUSC have asked the city to ban all smoking from Calhoun Street to Cannon Street, and for several blocks in either direction east and west. The idea won initial approval from council Tuesday.

Basically, anyone caught smoking on a public sidewalk in this district would be subject to a $10 or $25 fine. As Councilman Robert Mitchell says, that means people who live in the area could be treated as criminals if they take their garbage can to the curb with a cigarette in their hand.

That’s just crazy.

Now it should come as no surprise that health organizations would oppose smoking. It is, after all, bad for you. And the leaders of MUSC and Roper have a point when they complain about the “wall of smoke” their patients and employees have to pass through just to get to the hospital.

But the fact is, this is a problem of their own making.

Smoking a right?

Alexander, who is no fan of smoking, says this is a larger issue than just lighting up.

It’s about personal rights on public streets and sidewalks.

He points out that MUSC and Roper created the “wall of smoke” when they banned smoking on their campuses without allowing even a designated smoking area for their employees.

That forced hundreds, if not thousands, of patients and employees onto the sidewalks.

“To create a nuisance and expect government to fix it is not right,” Alexander says.


Mitchell is asking the U.S. Justice Department to look at this proposed ordinance, because he fears that this law could open the city up to lawsuits.

“I see it as a human-rights issue,” Mitchell says. “It looks like discrimination. People pay taxes to use those sidewalks. You don’t see that many people out there, and some of them are doctors are nurses.”

And, he says, if the city does this for the hospitals, how could it turn down a request from anyone else who wants a similar “tobacco-free zone”?

Talk about opening Pandora’s Box.

Corralling smokers

Alexander wants a compromise.

He would support a smoke-free zone within 100 feet of all hospital entrances, and he says the hospitals should provide a small area for employees and patients’ families to take a smoke break.

“No matter how stupid smoking is, people should have the right to make their own decisions,” Alexander says.

Mitchell could go along with that too — as would most reasonable people.

The problem here will likely be the hospitals. They banned smoking, and opted not to allow smoking areas, because they don’t want to promote a habit that is certainly bad for everyone’s health.

And since they won the first round in this fight, and have at least some residents on their side, they probably don’t see the need to compromise.

But if these smokers are corralled in areas where they aren’t exposing people to second-hand smoke, what’s the problem?

There isn’t one, unless the goal here is really just to tell people what to do.

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