Lawmakers stub out smoke-free workplace movement

As communities across South Carolina have rushed to protect workers and patrons in restaurants and bars — in response to public demand, and a recent Surgeon General’s report — they have faced one major barrier: The Legislature doesn’t want them to do it, and passed a law several years back forbidding them to do so.

If the General Assembly as a body were not actively hostile to public health, all it would have to do to foster a new dawn is get out of the way — repeal its pre-emption of local governments.

Instead, in actions that might baffle Machiavelli, it has taken idealistic legislation that would place a statewide ban on smoking in such public accommodations, watered it down to meaninglessness, and included even more emphatic language making sure that local governments can’t go beyond the meager changes in this bill.

In the attached video, you can hear some women who have been working hard to get this far on a workplace smoking ban, only to find it blow up in their faces — in multiple ways.

For instance, the legislation now:

  • Bans smoking in restaurants, but not bars.
  • Allows bars to pretty much define themselves AS bars, rather than setting rations of food-to-alcohol or some such.
  • Allows such establishments to buy their way out of the ban with a one-time fee. All they have to do is call themselves a bar, and ban kids for part of the day — letting the kids breathe the poisons from the upholstery during the hours that the joint goes BACK to being a "restaurant."
  • Put enforcement of the provisions, such as they are, under the Department of Revenue — there is, after all, that fee to collect — rather than the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
  • Leaves those workers at places that decide to call themselves "bars" completely unprotected from this workplace hazard.
  • Most of all, makes sure local standards can’t be any better than the state’s.

That last part is what has public health advocates ready to kill the bill altogether — which has some of our relatively-benign-but-less-thoughtful lawmakers (and that’s a large subset of the General Assembly) — dismissing them as soreheads not willing to take "half a loaf." But it isn’t half a loaf; it’s a serious setback.

The whole country is fed up with being forced to breathe the toxins put out by an obnoxious minority in public places, and finally laws across the nation are starting to reflect that. The movement has been strong in South Carolina as well, with 11 bills moving through the Legislature that among other things raise the cigarette tax (a lamentably pitiful amount), and ban smoking on school property, in cars that have kids as passengers, and in the aforementioned public accommodations.

There were originally something like 19 bills, which testifies to the fact that this was a movement welling up from the people of South Carolina through their representatives, not a focused campaign by any interest group. "It’s not health Nazis dictating policy," said Lisa Turner of the American Heart Association.

That actually presents a tactical liability to those working in our behalf and against the skillful, deep-pockets, recently-reinforced tobacco lobby. They know that if they kill the bar-restaurant bill, the bad stuff will just be tacked onto one of the other bills they are counting on passing.

All the momentum out here in the real world is on the side of those of us who want to breathe clean air. But the local lobbyists for tobacco companies, who tend to be some of Columbia’s best — from Dwight Drake to Tony Denny — have been making highly effective use of their close relationships with key decision-makers in the State House.

They are like highly skillful generals on the losing side of a conventional war — giving ground in ways that make their opponents pay the maximum for every inch, while all the time looking for the main chance that will suddenly tip the balance back in their favor, despite all the odds.

To see how this works in microcosm, check the video, in which a lobbyist for the American Lung Association describes her shock at first, seeing House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison attend a subcommittee meeting on the restaurant bill, then seeing the members chat back-and-forth with the tobacco lobbyists across the room whenever they had a question, ignoring the experts from the state health department that were sitting there.

The women in the video went on and on about how their phones have been lighting up with folks from their national organizations wanting to know, what in the world is happening there? Georgia, after all, not only bans smoking in any place that EVER serves kids — which pretty much covers all restaurants — and has 27 local ordinances that go farther than that. All of this, remember, is in response to the public demand — to which local governments tend to be more sensitive than state lawmakers.

Since these health advocate met with the editorial board, North Carolina has voted NOT to ban smoking. So at least South Carolina isn’t totally alone in its backwardness.

18 thoughts on “Lawmakers stub out smoke-free workplace movement

  1. LexWolf

    That’s great news, Brad. At least someone still has the guts to stand up the anti-smoking Nazis.

  2. bud

    I’ve become an anit-smoking zealot over time. It’s because of people like Lex who would have us breathe poisonous air in all public places. If we don’t keep up the pressure the pro-smoking nuts will turn back the hands of time to an era when smoke was prevalent everywhere (airplane, offices, elevators, movie theaters). We have no choice but to keep up the pressure. It’s time to end the practice of public smoking in all areas that allow children.

  3. Jeff L'Amoreaux

    Brad —
    Hey, me again.
    I wonder if consulting the public on every issue is that smart. I believe, the vote on Arizona’s smoking ban was 54% for, and 46% against. That’s not exactly overwhelming. I think the ACS and ALA push referenda to pass legislation because then the can say “The people have spoken!” albeit by a few percentage points.
    70/30 or 80/20 — those are overwhelming. So far, I do not believe any state has acheived those numbers with referenda on bans.
    Referenda passed by close margins bite back. Arizona and Ohio continue to have issues with the ban. That should not be a surprise with how close the vote was.
    I know SC is not looking to go with a referendum now. I think it is a cunning strategy selected “for the public good” when most people don’t know about the issues, and vote for change because that’s the presented side of it.
    When was the last time you proxy voted against the recommendations of the board for your mutual fund? Same doggone thing.
    My two cents.

  4. bill

    “At least someone still has the guts to stand up the anti-smoking Nazis.” LexWolf
    Let’s hope the pro-smoking Nazis still have the lungs.
    Ever watch anybody die from lung cancer(and then bone and brain)? It ain’t pretty,dude.

  5. bud

    This issue really hits a nerve with me. Every time someone violents the current restrictions on smoking or if I’m in a place that legally allows it I’m reminded of just how awful the bad ole days of free for all smoking were. We’ve come such a long way on this issue already. It’s because people finally began to actively oppose the smoking zealots. “Never again” should be the battle cry of those of us who wish to breathe clean air in public venues. If a smoker wants to fill his or her lungs with poison that’s fine with me. Just do so in the privacy of your home or car. And leave the rest of us alone.

  6. Brad Warthen

    Jeff, I don’t believe in government by referendum; I’m all for representative democracy.
    The current public opinion should not be the only determining factor in the votes of representatives; they must take many things into consideration, and sometimes have the courage to lead rather than follow.
    These guys aren’t leading, though; they’re engaging in a counterrevolution. And they seem to be only considering two things: What the tobacco lobby (and to some extent, the hospitality lobby) will accept, and their own kneejerk libertarianism.

  7. Dorothy

    Why ban smoking in public places? I have never smoked, but because of others addiction…I have emphysema because of second hand smoke… I would do anything to prevent another person having to fight for breath as I do.

  8. ed

    I think people (like me) who dislike smoking should frequent places that don’t allow it. If I choose to enter an establishment that allows smoking, I ought to realize that I will be exposed to it, and then be a grownup about it and shut up. I can choose to leave, or not go there in the first place. This approach does several good things:
    It preserves the rights of proprietors and propert owners to operate smoking establishments if they want, and to serve the clientele they desire
    It preserves the rights of people who like to smoke and enjoy having places to go where it is allowed
    It reinforces the rights of non-smokers to choose to frequent non-smoking establishments
    It ensures that free market forces operate to meet the needs of smokers and nonsmokers
    Personal freedoms are preserved and the market is allowed to function…what could be better? Ed

  9. Michael Gass

    Ok… back. It only took 3 weeks for me got an answer. Gotta love it.
    Don’t worry Brad. I am a good man who lives as anyone who read a bible should… “an eye for an eye”… that IS the way of the old testament and is what people want to quote is it?
    Anyway. Where to start here:
    Figure this; cigarette corporations were pushing pro-smoking propaganda from the early 1900’s. Their lobbyist’s had the backing of the government. All the way up to the time it came out they knew it was cancerous and dangerous. How many generations were that?
    Dorothy: I’m sorry you have emphysema. My grandfather died from it. I almost literally watched him go. So, I won’t diminish, or demean, your case in any way.
    What I do want to bring out is something called “field concentration”. It’s a very hard concept. It is how much chemical agent would it take in a wide open space to be totally effective.
    This is smoke now. This is nerve agents. mustard gas. real hazardous stuff.
    We went from one extreme to the other. Smoking is good. Smoking is the second most… err… third most evil sin… right behind being gay and getting an abortion.
    Both my parents smoked from the time I was a mere baby until I was well through my teen years. No disease. I started smoking when I was 18. I’m now 39. 21 years. No disease.
    But, people are now led to believe if you walk by someone who is smoking, you’ll automatically contract some disease. It is called field concentration. Look it up.
    The next argument is “but if I go out to a bar, I’m forced to breathe the smoke”. Since when? Who tied you to the chair? The bar has a door and you are free to walk out at any time. So why did you stay, breathe the smoke, just to complain you “had to”?
    Didn’t we have enough “thems”? You know… “thems”. “thems” like blacks, indians, women, democrats, Iraqi’s, Vietnamese, Nazi’s, Communist’s… THEM. Did we need another “them”, smokers, so we could point, whisper, and go “them”!
    If someone ties you up in a glass box, holds you there, forcing you to inhale cigarette smoke… I’ll be very sympathetic. But, not only go out where people smoke, but sit there for hours, just to complain how you’ve been “forced to do it”? That doesn’t pass the laugh test.
    My parents smoked. I smoke. I’ve been in smoky bars. Worked around smokers. Hung out in smoking areas. I’m 39 years old and have not one related disease… after virtually 39 years of being exposed, directly and indirectly.
    You’ll forgive me for being offended I am now a “them” because I smoke.
    Guess you didn’t have enough “thems” to point and whisper about huh?

  10. Michael Gass

    Oh… and Brad… as for “putting things in the blog where they belong”… well, there isn’t a recent one, so this one will do in lieu of a private email you just wish people wouldn’t send you.
    It is about that Iraq after-action report sent to me from whoever at That State around the same time you made that who “alternate universe” rant.
    Let me bring the relevent parts of it:
    – Iraq is ripped by a low grade civil war which has worsened to catastrophic levels with as many as 3000 citizens murdered per month. The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate. A handful of foreign fighters (500+) — and a couple of thousand Al Qaeda operatives incite open factional struggle through suicide bombings which target Shia holy places and innocent civilians. Thousands of attacks target US Military Forces (2900 IED’s) a month—primarily stand off attacks with IED’s, rockets, mortars, snipers, and mines from both Shia (EFP attacks are a primary casualty producer) —and Sunni (85% of all attacks—80% of US deaths—16% of Iraqi population.)
    This is getting better in your so-called “reality”? How? Because ONLY 3,000 are dying PER MONTH… RIGHT NOW… that is progress, because what, 4,000 died LAST month?
    – Three million Iraqis are internally displaced or have fled the country to Syria and Jordan. The technical and educated elites are going into self-imposed exile—a huge brain drain that imperils the ability to govern. The Maliki government has little credibility among the Shia populations from which it emerged. It is despised by the Sunni as a Persian surrogate. It is believed untrustworthy and incompetent by the Kurds.
    Ah yes… that grand experiment of Democracy is progress! Maliki has little credibility among his own faction, is despised by the Sunni’s, and not trusted by the Kurds. What more could a Democracy need? That is SURELY progress!
    – There is no function of government that operates effectively across the nation— not health care, not justice, not education, not transportation, not labor and commerce, not electricity, not oil production. There is no province in the country in which the government has dominance. The government cannot spend its own money effectively. ($7.1 billion sits in New York banks.) No Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO, nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi—without heavily armed protection.
    Hey. I see progress! These people weren’t safe in their HOUSES, NOW, they just aren’t safe in the STREETS. THAT is progress!
    – In total, enemy insurgents or armed sectarian militias (SCIRI, JAM, Pesh Merga, AQI, 1920’s Brigade, et. al.) probably exceed 100,000 armed fighters. These non-government armed bands are in some ways more capable of independent operations than the regularly constituted ISF. They do not depend fundamentally on foreign support for their operations. Most of their money, explosives, and leadership are generated inside Iraq. The majority of the Iraqi population (Sunni and Shia) support armed attacks on American forces. Although we have arrested 120,000 insurgents (hold 27,000) and killed some huge number of enemy combatants (perhaps 20,000+) — the armed insurgents, militias, and Al Qaeda in Iraq without fail apparently re-generate both leadership cadres and foot soldiers. Their sophistication, numbers, and lethality go up— not down— as they incur these staggering battle losses.
    MORE progress. The insurgency went for 3,000 (mostly foreign fighters) to over 100,000 (mostly Iraqi’s) in a mere 4 years. Not THAT is progress!
    – US domestic support for the war in Iraq has evaporated and will not return. The great majority of the country thinks the war was a mistake. The US Congress now has a central focus on constraining the Administration use of military power in Iraq —and potentially Iran. The losses of US Army, Marine, and Special Operations Force casualties in Iraq now exceed 27,000 killed and wounded. (Note: The Iraqi Security Forces have suffered more than 49,000 casualties in the last 14 months.) The war costs $9 Billion per month. Stateside US Army and Marine Corps readiness ratings are starting to unravel. Ground combat equipment is shot in both the active and reserve components. Army active and reserve component recruiting has now encountered serious quality and number problems. In many cases we are forced to use US contractors to substitute for required military functions. (128,000 contractors in Iraq—includes more than 2000 armed security personnel.) Waivers in US Army recruiting standards for: moral turpitude, drug use, medical issues, criminal justice records, and non-high school graduation have gone up significantly. We now are enlisting 42 year old first term soldiers. Our promotion rates for officers and NCOs have skyrocketed to replace departing leaders. There is no longer a national or a theater US Army strategic reserve. (Fortunately, powerful US Naval, Air Force, and nuclear capabilities command huge deterrence credibility.)
    More progress. Waivers. Upping the age for recruitment. Letting in druggies and felons. Sending back soldiers who can’t even wear body armor for their 3rd-5th tour. Oh, and the theater reserves are gone btw. All so the Bush administration could play with death counts in ONE city. Scream THIS progress at the top of your lungs.
    – We are at the “knee of the curve.” Two million+ troops of the smallest active Army force since WWII have served in the war zone. Some active units have served three, four, or even five combat deployments. We are now routinely extending nearly all combat units in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These combat units are being returned to action in some cases with only 7-12 months of stateside time to re-train and re-equip. The current deployment requirement of 20+ brigades to Iraq and 2+ brigades in Afghanistan is not sustainable.
    Yes. We have forward progress here. Force standards are unsustainable. Forces have been extended to 15 months now. So, lets send more troops for their 5th, 6th, and 7th tours. THAT is progress! Maybe they’ll survive to see their 8th tour! That would TRULY be progress!
    – We will be forced to call up as many as nine National Guard combat brigades for an involuntary second combat tour this coming year. (Dr Chu at DOD has termed this as “no big deal.”) Many believe that this second round of involuntary call-ups will topple the weakened National Guard structure— which is so central to US domestic security. The National Guard Bureau has argued for a call up of only 12 months instead of 18 months. This misses the point—DOD will without fail be forced to also extend these National Guard brigades in combat at the last minute given the continuation of the current emergency situation.
    Get that “progress”? Up to 9 National Brigades activated, deployed, then, at the LAST MINUTE, extended. The morale of our troops will surely progress! DOWNWARDS!
    – Our allies are leaving to include the courageous and well equipped Brit’s—by January 2008 we will be largely on our own.
    Yes. Soon it will be an Army of Bush. Everyone else got thrown out of office (Spain and Italy), are in dire straights (Blair), or took the “we aren’t with them” attitude (Germany, Australia and Canada). The progress of the willing jumping the Iraq ship continues.
    – A disaster in Iraq will in all likelihood result in a widened regional struggle which will endanger America’s strategic interests (oil) in the Mid-east for a generation.
    Hmmm… you know… what do you think Brad… as a journalist… do you see anything here in the fact OIL keeps being talked lately to write about? Maybe something about the Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law being on the top of Bush’s “benchmarks”? Give me your “professional opinion” as a journalist Brad… what is the story here?
    I’m going to leave it at this. Because you don’t me to bring out the underlined things that “supposedly” showed “progress”… oh, ok… I prove it to you:
    – Since the arrival of General David Petraeus in command of Multi-National Force Iraq— the situation on the ground has clearly and measurably improved.
    Yep. Only 3,000 Iraqi’s die a MONTH now. What was it before? 4,000? 6,000? I’m sure the Iraqi’s feel ONLY 3,000 are now dying is a SURE sign of progress!
    – Sadr himself has fled to Iran
    HURRAY! He went to Iran! And with a phone call, had tens of thousands of his supporters in the streets! But, we made him use a CELL PHONE… progress!!!
    – His fighting cadres were ordered to go to ground
    Yes… run away… hide… yet, our soldiers were still subjected to THOUSANDS of DAILY attacks. THOUSANDS. DAILY. So… forcing Sadr’s cadres underground was… progress????
    – The Iraqi people are encouraged —life is almost immediately springing back in many parts of the city. The murder rate has plummeted.
    The murder rate has plummetted! It’s only 3,000 now!!!!! It was sooo horrible when it was 6,000. LIFE is coming back! They can LOOK out their windows and MAYBE not be shot! We need a HUGE banner “PROGRESS ACCOMPLISHED”.
    – The Iraqis have finally committed credible numbers of integrated Police and Army units to the battle of Baghdad.
    Yes. In ONE city out of an ENTIRE NATION. Now THAT is progress after 4 years!
    – The Iraqi training base is cranking out 24,000 soldiers a year from 5 Regional and two national training bases.
    Too bad 49,000 of those soldiers died in 14 months. Do the math. It isn’t progress, it is a STALEMATE.
    – The end goal will be an Iraqi security force of more than 370,000 Police and Army— organized in 120 battalions.
    Wooohooo! REAL progress. We can now find all of the 370,000 Iraqi army forces that were DISBANDED under Paul Bremer and try to REHIRE them to reconstitute the SAME EXACT ARMY size. Tell me… how is this progress?
    And you want to rant about people who live in an “altnerate universe”…
    How about taking English as a second language and follow it up with a critical thinking course… it might help you understand just how bad Iraq is right now.

  11. ed

    I have the ame comment about Mr. Gass’ rant that Frasier Cranes’ father had about a book he saw Frasier reading: “Wow…Thick!”

  12. bill

    “Both my parents smoked from the time I was a mere baby until I was well through my teen years. No disease. I started smoking when I was 18. I’m now 39. 21 years. No disease.”
    Michael Gass
    Knock on wood.

  13. ed

    The single most important thing you can do to prolong life and improve health if you smoke is to quit. This is better than exercise, better than losing weight and better than reducing stress. However, I support your right to smoke with all my heart. Not everywhere, ’cause I deserve some smoke free places to go too. But there ought to be plenty of places that welcome smokers and I think smokers have the absolute right to smoke anywhere they want where it is allowed. Anti-smoking zealots should be very careful about their eagerness to truncate poeoples’ freedom to smoke. Their freedoms could very well be next. Ed

  14. Jeff L'Amoreaux

    Dorothy —
    I am sorry you have emphysema. If you have never smoked, I would be interested, if you would be so kind, in the circumstances which caused you to contract it.
    Brad —
    I am afraid I will learn, if Dorothy responds, that she was in a heavy smoking environment for many years, probably but not certainly at home. A spouse perhaps. If that is the case, she really didn’t have a choice (other than kicking the bum out – not a real choice) and had to breathe the stuff for years. That’s a big deal. “Here, honey, stay here and breathe my crap!”
    If these guys are eating out of the tobacco lobby’s hand, then you’re right, you’ve got a big problem in SC. Huge.
    I believe “knee-jerk libertarianism” is an oxymoron. Relying on liberty is something we always count on in this country. Liberty is an undercurrent, an unwavering constant, by definition. With all due respect Brad (and I mean it) could it be your surprise at the sudden denuding of the issues, baring the bones of this country’s liberty, that seems like “knee-jerk libertarianism”?

  15. Karen McLeod

    Why don’t you publish a list of the lawmakers who vote for this travesty? And a way to find out who’s the lawmaker in your area (for those who don’t know)? that way it would be easy for those of us who like breathing to ensure that we don’t vote for those out to smother us.

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