Your cigarette, his illness


More and more people are deciding not to smoke cigarettes, which are associated with cancer, heart disease and lung disease.

But the 400 infants who die every year due to secondhand smoke can’t decide what air to breathe. Nor can most of the 41,000 adult nonsmokers who meet the same fate.

That new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than justify South Carolina’s smoking restrictions adopted in 1990 for public schools, childcare facilities, health care facilities, government buildings, elevators, public transportation vehicles and public theatres and arenas. The law allows for some designated smoking areas.

After the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that local governments may regulate smoking more stringently than the state, municipalities and counties enacted smoking bans: Charleston bans smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including bars and restaurants. It exempts cigar bars, theatrical performances involving smoking, and designated hotel and motel smoking rooms.

Charleston County’s ban, like ones adopted by Mount Pleasant, the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Summerville applies to all bars and restaurants, but not other workplaces.

Both North Charleston and Folly Beach have rejected smoking bans in enclosed workplaces.

Perhaps the new CDC data will inspire a change of heart for them.

Yes, smokers feel as if they are being targeted unfairly every time more restrictions are added. But think how those whose health is being compromised by breathing secondhand smoke must feel.

The trends the CDC reports are encouraging. Exposure to secondhand smoke in 2012 was half what it was in 1999. But it was still the case that one in four nonsmokers was exposed.

Sadly, the odds are worse for children ages 3-11. Two out of five are exposed to deadly secondhand smoke. For black children in that age range, seven in 10 are exposed.

Also at greater risk of exposure are people who live in poverty or live in rental accommodations. In multi-unit housing, secondhand smoke can seep into other residences and shared areas.

But back to restrictions: The CDC credits the decline in secondhand smoke exposure to the fact that almost half of the U.S. population is covered by local and state laws prohibiting smoking in public areas.

So while smokers lament having fewer places to smoke, nonsmokers can breathe a little more easily when reasonable restrictions are imposed.