Establishing a tobacco-free zone around the Roper and MUSC hospitals in downtown Charleston is a natural extension of existing policies, and it makes good health sense for everyone.

Both hospitals have smoke-free workplace policies already; they join hundreds nationwide that have implemented these policies, according to a list compiled by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

Roper's website points out that they offer nicotine replacement options in their gift shops.

MUSC's policy includes providing smoking cessation assistance to employees.

These are all health and wellness initiatives that one would expect from a health care organization.

And there's a more fundamental point here: Nobody should have to navigate through a cloud of second-hand smoke to get medical treatment.

Think about all the different kinds of patients whose health would be severely affected by second-hand smoke, even the man whom reporter Schuyler Kropf interviewed, who was a sinus patient at Roper and a smoker.

People with asthma or lung problems, elderly folks, anybody with trouble breathing, or really anybody who wants to breathe clean air, shouldn't be subjected to a haze of smoke just to enter the hospital.

When the hospitals went smoke free, they drove their employees who smoke to the sidewalks. That doesn't make the best impression for folks coming to get medical help, and it certainly doesn't improve everyone's overall health.

So this is the next logical step.

Right to smoke?

No, there is no constitutional right to smoke. Yes, the government does infringe on your freedoms in order to keep you healthy and safe.

That means requiring you to wear a seatbelt, because it is statistically shown to prevent injury and death in the case of an accident.

In some places that means requiring you to wear a helmet when you ride a motorcycle or a bicycle for the same reason.

It also means punishment for driving while intoxicated, because you're more likely to hurt someone else when you get behind the wheel after having one too many.

There's no denying that this can be a slippery slope. One person's bike helmet is another person's super-sized soda.

MUSC's department of public safety reportedly has planned to place an emphasis on education in its enforcement plan. And the ban does not extend to those driving through the smoke-free zone, so perhaps some patients and employees can take solace in that.

Times change

Look, you can't smoke in an airplane anymore. And people still fly.

You can't smoke in a movie theater anymore, and people still buy tickets.

And many people can't smoke at work.

Truth is, you can't smoke in a lot of places, for long stretches at a time, and people have more or less accepted that.

The hospitals owe it to themselves and the community to be leaders in the area of health and wellness.

This initiative is another step in creating a healthy community.

Making a healthy choice is hard work. Quitting smoking is one of those choices. Those who do should be commended, even if it takes multiple times to quit for good. Every cigarette not smoked is a step toward a healthier, longer life.

When they added those bright orange flags for pedestrian safety downtown at Calhoun and Courtenay streets, people laughed, said it was silly. But people are using them — because they increase safety.

That program required picking up a stick.

Maybe a policy that requires putting one down will also eventually gain traction.

If it does, everyone will benefit.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or