On Monday, Rock Hill became the first community in the Charlotte region to ban smoking in public places. We hope the York County Council now will make the ban countywide.
The County Council gave initial approval last month to a compre-hensive ban on smoking in public places in all unincorporated areas of the county. While that vote was unanimous, some council members recently have backtracked, saying they might want to allow some exceptions for bar owners and operators of private clubs.
The smoking ban lost a key proponent when Councilman Rick Lee left office. Chad Williams, who defeated Lee in the November election, initially opposed the ban but now says he'll support it -- with some exceptions. Councilman Paul Lindemann now says he wants an exception for private clubs, while Councilman Tom Smith wants exceptions for bars that don't admit minors.
These councilmen seem to have lost their focus on the only pertinent issue here: public health. The issue is not smokers' rights or how much secondhand smoke the public should be willing to tolerate in a public setting.
The issue is how best to protect customers and employees from any exposure to secondhand smoke at all. Period.
There is ample evidence that even small amounts of secondhand smoke can be hazardous, with links to heart disease and cancer. Researchers have concluded that no exposure to secondhand smoke is safe.
And there is no way to add loopholes to a public smoking ban and still protect the public from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Rock Hill may be a trendsetter in the region in approving a citywide smoking ban. But Rock Hill follows in the footsteps of 28 states, the District of Columbia and more than 6,000 other cities that have enacted comprehensive smoking bans.
The county does not need to reinvent the wheel. Thousands of local governments have banned smoking in public places without exceptions.
In many cases, business increases for bars and restaurants after smoking is banned. Nonsmoking patrons, who appreciate the smoke-free environment, more than make up for lost smokers.
In New York City, for example, business tax receipts for restaurants and bars increased 8.7 percent during the nine months after the citywide smoke-free workplace law took effect.
Again, public health is the key issue. No one should be unwillingly subjected to someone else's smoke.
Councilman Williams offers a hypothetical situation in which, he asserts, a business owner who smokes and hires smokers as employees should have the right to allow smoking on the premises.
Those hypothetical employees, spending all day in a smoke-filled environment, are at great risk. And their health problems drive up health costs for everyone.
People who want to smoke are free to do so. They just shouldn't be allowed to smoke in places where their habit is detrimental to others.
We hope the County Council won't falter on the need to make public places in the county smoke-free.
York County should follow Rock Hill's example and pass smoking ban without loopholes.