For the purposes of the story, I should probably start by saying that I don’t smoke. Yes, I’m guilty of the occasional puff with friends over a cup of coffee, but for the most part I abstain. I’ve never been a fan of it, even before my pack a day grandmother died of lung cancer. My wife smokes, and it is probably our most frequent subject of arguments.
That said, the proposed legislation has me concerned. The citywide ban on smoking would also include construction sites and hallways. Smoking areas would be limited to designated areas in city parks.
The basic idea is understandable enough. Smoke Free Horry’s main initiative seems to be directed at eliminating secondhand smoke from the workplace, for the benefit of nonsmoking workers. And though some might consider it controversial, much of the research on secondhand smoke and its harmful effects stands up under scrutiny. As someone who has worked a grill in a smoke-heavy establishment before, I can attest to the discomfort (if not necessarily the health problems) that such an environment can cause.
But a trip to Smoke Free Horry’s website can raise some eyebrows. First of all, there is the raw data that says that “84% of the respondents strongly support prohibiting smoking in all indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars”. This is presumably from a statewide poll from “a few years ago.” Yet, a nation-wide Gallup poll from 2007 revealed that only 54% of Americans favored completely smoke-free restaurants, and even smaller percentages favored completely smokeless hotel rooms and bars.
In fact, that same poll went to smokers, and found that 47% (a number steadily increasing over five years) felt that they were being unjustly discriminated against. And they have a valid point. When Congress needs a tax increase, a raise in the cigarette tax ruffles the fewest feathers in the citizenry. In February of 2009, President Obama almost tripled the federal tax rate for cigarettes to $1.01 per pack. This tax increase has since had a negative effect on programs supported by state tobacco taxes. Also, increased taxation on cigarettes has a direct relationship to the increase in tobacco smuggling.
The sentiment seems to be that smokers are an easy target, which could also account for the disproportionate attention paid to breast cancer when compared to lung cancer. Breast cancer patients are seen as unlucky. Lung cancer patients, at least those with a history of smoking, are seen as simply facing the consequences of their actions. The more hardcore anti-smoking advocates, such as those on Smoke Free Horry, make Youtube videos portraying cigarette smoke as something akin to the infectious virus in a zombie film. No one is safe until we wipe it out completely. Do not suffer the smoker to inhale.
South Carolina has been largely spared from the worst anti-tobacco legislation, having one of the lowest tax rates in the country. Unfortunately, this makes smokers an easier target for SC legislators.
Of course, this is me playing devil’s advocate. I completely understand the underlying initiative. But a city mandate is not the way to go. By passing a citywide law, and forcing all business owners to comply, legislators are forcing their ways into not only the personal lives of its citizens, but into the protocols of local businesses. A better option would be to nix an all-out ban, but offer tax incentives to those businesses that chose to go smoke-free. That way, business owners would have the opportunity to weigh out the benefits and consequences of restricting smoking. They would have the chance to speak to their clientele, and get a real idea of how such a decision would be taken by the very people who provide their business.
This issue needs further discussion before its passage, but I fear that the city council has already made up its mind. It may seem cut-and-dry to them, but I hope that they realize before the meeting on the 23rd, that most issues are more complicated than they seem at first glance.