Opinion

Smoking bans help business

In the debate over public smoking bans, the experience of Butch Bailey may be more the rule than the exception.

Bailey, owner of Rock Hill's Tropical Escape Cafe, banned smoking inside the restaurant last month after listening to complaints about the smoke for years. He said recently that after banning smoking, he has heard more positive comments than negative ones, and food sales have more than made up for what he has lost in bar business.

Bailey's story was part of the recent panel discussion organized by Partners In Tourism, a York County association of hospitality industry leaders. The panel included local restaurant and bar owners, legal experts and lobbyists, who talked about the effects of a local smoking ban on business and the legal ramifications involved.

The city of Rock Hill had toyed with a ban on smoking in most public places earlier this year, but backed off when similar bans in Sullivan's Island, Greenville and Charleston were challenged in court. Those cases now are before the state Supreme Court.

Paul Dillingham, the city's attorney, said the city feasibly could move forward with its ban, even if the courts limited it in some ways. Rock Hill physician Alan Nichols, president of the Tobacco Free York County Coalition and a member of the panel, would like to see public smoking banned simultaneously in Rock Hill and York County, if not statewide.

A statewide ban would be the most practical approach, superseding local bans. The General Assembly discussed such a ban during the last session, but the bill failed to come up for a vote.

Meanwhile, we are gratified that local officials are keeping the issue before the public eye with events such as the panel discussion earlier this month. As more people become involved in the discussion, the more likely they are to support a ban.

The experience of the Tropical Escape is instructive. Smoking bans have been painted by some as punitive to business when, in fact, the bans often increase business, especially for restaurants, where patrons don't want cigarette smoke as an unwelcome side order to their meals.

As Nichols testified at the panel discussion, public health also is a significant concern. Even a small amount of secondhand smoke can trigger a heart attack in susceptible people, breathing difficulties for those with pulmonary problems and health hazards for just about everyone.

Another compelling rationale for smoking bans is the right of employees to a smoke-free environment. Employees in a smoke-filled restaurant often inhale the equivalents of several packs of cigarettes a day in secondhand smoke. Employers have to be concerned about their legal liability.

Ample precedent exists for smoking bans. Thirty states and the District of Columbia already have bans of varying toughness. So do hundreds of cities and counties nationwide.

Forward-thinking local leaders are right to keep this discussion going.

IN SUMMARY

Local panel discussion of smoking bans helps keep top in the public eye.

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