Kicking Butt On Public Smoking
August 28, 2002
I'm ready to kick some butt on public smoking!
The time has come in South Carolina for concerned citizens to lobby their state legislature to make smoking illegal in public places.
As an avid non-smoker, I simply cannot understand why the rights of the minority (smokers) supercede those of the majority (non-smokers). This is not democracy! This is unAmerican!
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently asked the City Council to enact a total ban on smoking in all restaurants and bars within the city's five major areas. Under current New York law concerning smoking in public places, restaurants with fewer than 35 seats can opt to permit smoking (which is absolutely ludicrous since the dangers of second hand smoke in smaller businesses are far worse than those in larger establishments!). However, larger operations have the option of designating a smoker's section in their bar or lounge area. Nevertheless, businesses that derive less than 40% of their sales from food are exempt from these restrictions.
One of my favorite places to eat in Spartanburg is at Gooney Bird's on Reidville Road. It is close to my home and offers great food and superb service. However, the division between the smoking and non-smoking sections makes it impossible to escape the smell of cigarette smoke when the restaurant is full (as it is on most evenings and on Sundays after church). The smoking section is in the middle of the restaurant near the bar. The non-smoking section is along the perimeter of the restaurant. Regardless of where you sit in the restaurant, you will be subjected to cigarette smoke.
As someone who is allergic to cigarette smoke, this is extremely uncomfortable. My eyes begin watering profusely, my throat begins to get scratchy and closes up, my breathing is extremely shallow and I get the worst headaches I ever get. When you are out trying to enjoy a meal with your family, this certainly does not make for a very pleasurable dining experience.
In New York City, if Mayor Bloomberg's proposed amendment to the city's Smoke-Free Air Act is approved by the City Council, then about 13,000 businesses will be forced to outlaw smoking. The mayor asserts that smoking in restaurants and bars is unsafe to employees and customers.
"It is just a health risk that workers should not be exposed to," Bloomberg said at a news conference prior to his request to the City Council. "No employer would allow their employees to work in a place with asbestos in the air. This is just as dangerous and that's why we should stop it now."
There have been several states and cities who have banned or are considering banning smoking in all restaurants. Five years ago, public pressure forced California state legislators to create a law making all restaurants in California smoke free. Deleware passed similar legislation that will go into effect this November. City Councils in El Paso, TX and Tempe, AZ have banned smoking in bars, restaurants, pool halls and bowling alleys. Maine, Utah and Vermont all forbid smoking in restaurants, but they allow it in bars. Florida voters will decide on the issue in a ballot iniative in November. There is a growing movement in America to make smoking in public places illegal.
Restaurant owners and opponents of smoke free legislation say that if you ban smoking in public places that business will begin to decline. Mayor Bloomberg addresses this issue when he states, "All of the evidence suggests that in California, where they did this (banned smoking), that actually the patronage of restaurants and bars - the amount of money spent in them - goes up, not down." The statistics seem to bear this out. Since California restaurants went smoke free five years ago, there has been a 9.3% sales increase in 2000 (the latest statistics available).
Before I am bombarded by people who believe I am attacking individual rights and freedoms, let me say that I am not opposed to someone smoking in their own home on their own property. That is your right as an American citizen. My objection centers solely around smoking in public places. The actions of smokers directly affects the health of others when they decide to light up in a public place. In today's society, that certainly sounds like a class action lawsuit just waiting to happen!
So how about South Carolina? The time has come for us to consider doing something about the problem of public smoking. We need to lobby our state legislature to kick butt on public smoking in restaurants in South Carolina. The sooner, the better!
Then maybe I can enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant again.