No more ifs about butts

Richard's Bar and Grill in Mount Pleasant

A bus driver’s employer shouldn’t expect him to operate a vehicle with bad brakes.

A bank shouldn’t put a teller to work without proper security.

And with its vote Tuesday, Charleston County Council is ensuring that a business can’t allow employees to work in harm’s way, forced to breathe second-hand cigarette smoke.

It was the right move for the county to ban indoor smoking in public places in unincorporated areas. Already, seven local municipalities, including Charleston, Summerville and Mount Pleasant, have their own bans.

Next, North Charleston City Council will reconsider a ban. One such ordinance was voted down there years ago, and Mayor Keith Summey still opposes the idea. But there are new people serving on council, and a vote could turn out differently this time.

For the good of people who work in North Charleston, it should turn out differently.

There is no doubt that government has intruded in areas that many would agree are inappropriate.

Should a city really tell people what size soft drinks they may legally consume? Or should a school district screen children’s bagged lunches to protect them from fatty, salty or sugary foods?

A government should exercise restraint, limiting people’s freedoms only when necessary to protect others’ well-being. So if cigarette smokers want to inhale carcinogens, increasing their risk of lung and heart disease, it is their prerogative. Unless they light up in public places where others suffer as a result.

Business owners whose clientele enjoy smoking inside their commercial establishments worry that Charleston County’s ban will erode their business. Richard Ruth, owner of Richard’s Bar on U.S. Highway 17, said 600 people signed a petition in his bar opposing a smoking ban. Twelve signed a petition in favor of a ban.

But Mr. Ruth might well find that, aside from disappointing customers, the ban doesn’t hurt his business. Bill Settlemyer, of the Smoke-free Lowcountry Coalition, says studies indicate local smoking bans don’t harm businesses where they are enforced. Indeed, Mr. Ruth might draw new customers who find it more pleasant to meet friends in a bar that is smoke-free.

Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby, who championed the ban, summed it up. People have to work to earn a living, and it’s unfair that some of them have to put their health at risk to do that.

Just as it would be unfair for a firefighter to be denied a mask, or a cook denied potholders.