When Tabithia Engle moved to Fort Mill this summer from Portland, Ore., she left behind soggy weather, Pacific salmon and arguably the best mass transit system in the United States.
But Engle is certain she brought at least one thing with her to South Carolina: the right to breathe clean air -- free of the harmful effects of secondhand cigarette smoke.
"Let me tell you, today kind of feels like home," Engle told about 40 listeners at a forum Tuesday night on a possible countywide ban on smoking in public places.
Engle was talking about the rainy conditions outside, but she might as well have been referring to the way of thinking in her home city.
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Rock Hill and York County leaders have signaled support for a proposal to outlaw smoking in public places, similar to what Oregon and at least 10 cities in South Carolina have already done. An approval would culminate a local debate that has stretched more than four years, picking up plenty of fans and critics along the way.
One example is Engle, whose husband, Tom, works for Freightliner and was transferred here when the company opened offices near Lake Wylie.
"Secondhand smoke is not just annoying like some people want us to think," Engle said later. "It is a clear health hazard."
Infringing on rights
To others in York County, the real hazard is when government tries to dictate a decision some believe is best left up to individuals.
"I stand in defense of liberty," said Mark Palmer of York. "We have what's called property rights. We don't need government to do this for us."
Palmer quoted American political activist Alan Keyes, who said government is like a fire; it can keep you warm, but you don't want to let it burn all over your house.
"All we need is tyranny," added his brother, Dan. "People say it (a smoking ban) isn't that big. Well, it's a little step at a time."
Frequent city critic Tony Jannetta declared himself neutral in the debate, but recalled a day long ago when his father caught him smoking an El Producto cigar in an alleyway.
"He really wore me out," Jannetta told listeners. "Every time I walk by that alleyway, I think about the spanking I got."
Jannetta seemed close to making the point that Americans are free to choose whether to smoke, but their choice brings the potential for punishment, be it lung cancer or a serious "whupping."
After hearing opinions Tuesday night, the city and county expect to take up formal proposals in October or soon after, once the lawyers have drawn up language.
Two of the decisionmakers, Mayor Doug Echols and County Council Chairman Buddy Motz, are former smokers who each dropped the habit many years ago. Both say their views matured as the health risks became clearer. Now they're partnering to do something about it.