Keeping us safe from common sense

Vigilant S.C. lawmakers keep
us safe from common sense

IF YOU THINK lawmakers are going to do the sensible thing and ban smoking in restaurants statewide, you must not have lived in South Carolina very long.
    OK, but surely they’ll at least get out of the way of local governments and let them respond to the great majority of voters who want to dine smoke-free, and deliver waitresses, cooks and bottle-washers from having poisonous gases crammed down their lungs in their workplaces?
    You think they’d at least do that much, right?
    Where are you from, boy? Russia? London? New York City? I never heard such innocent foolishness. Let me lay some facts of life and slow, lingering death on you. I should start by debunking a myth or two.
    First, this absolute refusal to use common sense and protect the public from a ubiquitous carcinogen is not a Southern thing. It’s a South Carolina thing.
    I discovered this detective-style, which is always the best way. I went into a Longhorn Steakhouse in Savannah last month and asked for a seat in the nonsmoking section. The hostess brushed off my request with a dismissive, “There’s no smoking in Georgia, silly.” All right, she didn’t actually say “silly,” but she was probably just too busy, or trying to be nice, or something.
    It seems that back in 2005, Georgia lawmakers decided that kids who get dragged to restaurants by their parents, which for kids is enough of a bummer, shouldn’t also have to die of lung disease. So the state banned smoking in public venues that serve children. (At least one joint responded by banning children, but you’ll always have a few like that.)
    The proposal was introduced by a state senator who also happened to be a family physician, and he told everybody breathing smoke was bad for kids’ health. That seemed to do the trick.
    That would never sway our lawmakers, who are made of sterner stuff. Secession was bad for kids’ health, too, but what was that compared to our iron determination that nobody was going to tell a South Carolina white man what he could do with his property. No sir, not ever.
    FYI, you can’t smoke in restaurants in Arkansas, Florida or Kentucky, either, or in 18 other states, according to the Web site of Smoke Free USA.
    Our lawmakers aren’t going to let that happen here, though — not even on the micro level. They made sure of that more than a decade ago, when Spartanburg had the temerity to ban smoking in its restaurants.
    They knew they would never give in to common sense, but with the Spartanburg example out there, those other weak-kneed local governments, being so close to the people and all, would start caving left and right, giving votgers what they wanted.
    So they passed a law that said henceforth cities would not be allowed to ban smoking. Stupid and evil as it may be, you’ve got to admit this move was forward-looking, given the rash of attempted bans recently.
    Why don’t they want people to be allowed to ban smoking in their own communities? Is it self-interest; is it greed for the tobacco lobby’s money or anything like that? No, that’s another myth.
    Rep. Ralph Davenport, R-Spartanburg, showed how selfless backers of the pre-emption were when he indicated at the time (1995) that even though his asthmatic daughter was “crippled” any time she so much as walked through smoke, he saw no reason to be “eroding the free enterprise system.”
    You see, in South Carolina, smokers and business owners have rights; employees and other nonsmokers don’t. Never mind that there are a lot more employees than business owners, and three times as many nonsmokers as smokers. Think about it: If South Carolina started handing out rights to just anybody — such as duly elected local governments trying to protect the public health — there’s no telling where it would stop.
    But prophetic vision isn’t quite enough if one is going to keep protecting the prerogatives of a privileged minority — and if the Legislature knows how to do anything, it knows how to do that. You also need eternal vigilance.
    A couple of weeks back, a really wild and crazy thing happened — wild and crazy by Palmetto State standards, I mean. Sen. Vincent Sheheen, an idealist who, despite his youth, has been around enough to know the futility of such gestures, nevertheless proposed to revoke pre-emption. He proposed, as an amendment to a bill banning smoking on school grounds, the following:

    Notwithstanding any other provision of state law, a county or municipality may enact ordinances prohibiting or restricting smoking in businesses or establishments open to the general public.

    It didn’t ban smoking, or tell anybody to ban smoking. It merely got state government out of the way so that Greenville, Columbia, Sullivan’s Island and all those other communities could do what they have been trying so hard to do in response to demand from their citizens.
    The wild and crazy thing was that the amendment actually passed. But that was a moment of weakness by the rank and file. Before final passage of the overall bill, Senate leaders — and we call them that without a shred of irony, because the rest of the state follows where they lead — let it be known that the overall bill would be doomed if the amendment stayed. So it went away.
    What do you do with people like this? They not only won’t act in the public interest; they take extraordinary steps to make sure nobody else does so.
    In South Carolina, what we do with them is keep electing them. But I can’t tell you why.

19 thoughts on “Keeping us safe from common sense

  1. Billy *BR* Hucks

    Does this really surprise you. This is the same bunch who still sees nothng wrong with flying, on public property, a flag that insults a large number of South Carolina citizens, black and white.
    I thought of leaving my home state many times, to a place where smoke-free places abound, and more civilized behavior is more evident.
    But I didn’t, so now I only patronize Columbia’s smoke-free restaurants, namely Miyos, Italian Pie, Lizards Thicket, and maybe a handful of others. Keep up the heat.

  2. Jeff L'Amoreaux

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
    Common sense dictates that people patronize places that suit them. Many bars in PA are smoke free — by choice. Are there none in SC?
    Folks, vote with your dollars.
    If second-hand smoke is dangerous to workers, why hasn’t OSHA done something about it? Answer — ASH sued OSHA to do something about it. OSHA responded that ETS is not dangerous, and ASH dropped the suit because it wouldn’t give them the damning answer they wanted. OSHA’s let it stay that way ever since. Maybe OSHA should be asked again!
    Lots of luck, SC. Hope you have the chance to decide as individuals, instead of having “it’s good for you” policy crammed down your throats.
    Chalfont, PA

  3. bill

    Looks like take-out for a long,long time.After all,restaurants and bars are the nicotine junkies’ world,and they have every right to cram their drugs down our throats.See you in the parking lot.

  4. bud

    Jeff, there are several smoke free restaraunts in Columbia including Outback and Blue Marlin. But the issue is children’s health. If a minor wants to eat or work in a restaraunt why should he be subjected to the ill effects of cigarette smoke?

  5. Jeff L'Amoreaux

    Bud —
    Children’s health is a big-time issue, yessir.
    There’s two kinds of minors. Those dependent on parents or guardians (kids), and those who aren’t.
    A kid who goes into a smoke-filled restaurant is doing it because someone took them there. It’s the someone’s responsibility to keep the kid out, if they want to.
    A minor who goes into a restaurant can judge if it is too smoky just as well as an adult. In fact, they can judge probably better than an adult, becuase they’re educated in school about it and the subject is fresh.
    A minor who works in a restaurant should be protected by OSHA. That is their job, and quite frankly, I’m dismayed that they chicken out, time after time.

  6. Brad Warthen

    Note that North Carolina is about to go smokeless. There will be nowhere to turn! We’ll be surrounded by common sense!
    Well South Carolina has stood alone before. And fat lot of good it did us…
    Jeff: Chalfont, huh? I used to live in Woodbury — way the other side of Philly.

  7. mark g

    Brad, this is a terrific column. Very well done.
    Highlighting the absurdities of the SC General Assembly could be a weekly feature.
    There are a few statesmen in the general assembly– men and women who strive to serve for the right reasons. But the vast majority of legislators are uninformed and self-centered– and that’s a bad combiniation.
    And it’s a small enough state so that any special interest can easily buy what they want– just ask the billboard industry, the telcos, the tobacco lobby, you name it.
    What can we do? The answer isn’t easy, but it would help if more people were registered to vote and went to the polls; if there was more media coverage of the legislature– especially on TV or radio. And if they had a shorter session– say three months instead of six– smarter candidates would step up to run.

  8. Lee

    This is a manners issue. Adults can handle that by themselves. Businesses are not public places. They are private property of owners who pay taxes. The decor, merchandise, menu, smoking are their private business, between them and their customers.
    If you are not a customer of a business, their menu and what sort of smoking or alcohol or music they decide to have there is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

  9. Connie

    Brad – Tobacco is still a LEGAL PRODUCT. People have and make choices. My choice is to smoke and not frequent non-smoking restaurants just as some people choose not to frequent smoking restaurants. Don’t you think our lawmakers have much more to do and worry with than mess with people’s choices? I do. There are many more problems in our state than this. Bet you’d even like our lawmakers to legislate drinking. Have you ever seen families in bars with noisy, rowdy, drunks? Let’s ban drinking too. I don’t believe that will happen due to the liquor lobbyists and the fact that I’ll bet even you take a little bitty drink once in a while. Enough already!!! I’ll continue to smoke and continue to frequent those places that make me feel welcome and frankly, I’d rather not sit next to a non-smoker, even tho they’re probably eating more fat and non-healthy food than myself.

  10. Lee

    The legislature is hungry for more money after it sold the tobacco settlement money for pennies on the dollar, took the lump sum and blew it in one year.
    Now, they have to dig up other funds to pay for the medical care they promised former smokers.

  11. bear

    Ever notice the homeless? Nine out of ten will be smoking. Funny how they always manage to have ‘a smoke’. Addicting? ‘Nuff said.

  12. Dave

    Funny how the destitute homeless always manage to own cellphones and have enough cash to buy liquor. But, I guess if you live in a world where the churches feed you for free, you get medical care for free, and shelters give you a bed for free, surely you have enough cash from your “disability” check to smoke, drink, and chat away. The American poor are like the upper middle class in Asia and Africa.

  13. Lee

    Welfare handouts to the various “poor people” are just a means of moving you hard-earned money into the hands of grocers, cigarette companies, alcohol distillers, slum lords, and the retailers of cheap clothing.
    That’s why they call call these expenditures “transfer payments”. The poor are just a conduit from you to the wealthy people at the top who supply consumables to the poor.


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