Friday, January 12, 2007

Charleston Bans Smoking

Our columnist Will Moredock celebrates the Charleston ban, meanwhile Columbia still has the we "pretended to ban it" thing going on. Keep smokin it if you got 'em Columbia........

Charleston Clears the Air By Will Moredock

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re smoke-free at last!

So it appears that Charleston will finally become a smoke-free city.
After more than seven years of debate, discussion and study, City Council voted 9-4 last Tuesday night to snuff the butts in Charleston bars, restaurants and private clubs in the name of public health. One more reading and vote is required and that will likely come on January 23. The ordinance will go into effect in July and Charleston can finally breathe easily.
As late as this ordinance was in coming, there is still plenty of reason for celebration and congratulations. Perhaps the first to take a bow would be Dan Carrigan and Dianne Wilson, who have campaigned tirelessly through various organizations to achieve this day. Many citizens, business leaders and medical professionals came out at last week’s council meeting – and at several previous meetings over the years – to speak in favor of the ordinance.
At the January 9 meeting, representatives from the Charleston Branch NAACP, Trident United Way, Charleston Area League of Women Voters, the Hollings Cancer Center, the Medical University of South Carolina, the American Lung Association, the S.C. Hospital Association, the College of Charleston and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control all spoke in favor the new law, as did several business owners and workers. Two musicians appealed to make the venues where they perform free of secondhand smoke.
Kudos also for former Councilman Dr. Duke Hagerty, who first brought the issue to council’s attention in 1999. Charleston was the first municipality in the state to consider comprehensive smoke-free workplace protection. And thanks to Councilmen Paul Tinkler and Henry Fishburne, who kept the issue alive on council for more than two years.
Mayor Joe Riley showed real leadership as he addressed the council and the packed council chamber – the kind of leadership he should have shown on this issue years ago. He said what others on the council and in the community had already declared: The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on second-hand smoke, issued last July, tipped many opinions in favor of a smoking ban. The report said that there is no such thing as a safe amount of second-hand smoke and that air-filtration devices do not make air safe to breathe.
“Just because (the smoking ban) was not accepted before does not mean it was wrong,” Riley said in an eloquent and passionate statement. “It just means that we have new information, we have a new understanding….
“For me, in this process of consideration…I am confident that it is our responsibility to create smoke-free workplaces for people to work.” People could not simply change jobs because they don’t like breathing second-hand smoke, the mayor said. “People work where they can get a job.”
As they had in past meetings when the smoking ban came up for a vote, most black council members refused to come on board. In early discussion Tuesday night, James Lewis Jr., Robert Mitchell and Wendell Gilliard all expressed doubt about the smoking ordinance.
Gilliard seemed especially troubled as he spoke about the plague of violence that has racked the black community in the last year, leaving a record number of dead bodies – most of them young black men – on the streets of Charleston and North Charleston. “I think we need to rearrange our priorities,” he said. “I think we need to rid our community of illicit drugs and illicit guns.”
He held up pages from the Post and Courier, that paper’s annual report from each of several recent years on homicides in the Lowcountry. The pages were filled with small pictures of the year’s dead. “So you ask, what does this have to do with cancer? I can see it in your faces. Well, I’ll tell you: It’s another form of death.”
The anguish in his face and voice left no doubt with anyone that Gilliard was wrestling with the devil. And in the end, the councilman won, casting his vote for life.
One party that comes away from this long and surly debate with a badge of shame is the Post and Courier. Charleston’s daily newspaper has been morally AWOL on this issue, as it has on so many before.
The P&C continues to take the position that property rights trump public health, good public policy and common sense. This was the same position the reactionary old newspaper and its reactionary owners used to argue against desegregating public accommodations a half-century ago. And it’s the argument earlier generations of Southerners used to defend slavery.
The Post and Courier remains on the wrong side of history and the Curse of the Manigault hangs over this old city like a cloud of stale tobacco smoke.