THE GOOD FIGHT ‌ Clearing the Air, IV 

Charleston, where are your manners?

The argument over public smoking in the Holy City is clearly heating up. Perhaps this is adding fuel to the fire, but I will point out some facts.

For traditionalists — and, God knows, there are plenty — who like to keep things just the way they have always been, let me point out that we are close to losing one of our most precious titles. The good folk of Charleston have long been regarded as the most mannerly people in the USA. Year after year, we are recognized by those in the business of recognizing good manners (actually, that would be Marjabelle Young Stewart) as the most mannerly city in the nation.

But, in the past two weeks:

1) Radio kook Rocky D (WTMA 1250 AM) went on a rant against efforts to control cigarette smoke in work areas and public places, including calling in the assistance of bogus and discredited "health authorities." He called the anti-smoking campaigners "health Nazis."

2) Usually more temperate radio talk jock Richard Todd (WTMA 1250 AM) also trashed the airways with his anti-social, libertarian pontifications against public health regulations.

3) And then there was Frank Wooten, of the Post and Courier, who editorialized against the "do-gooder busybodies," who wish to make public places and workplaces safe from cigarette smoke. (Let me inject here how tragic it is to see the P&C incapable of learning from its mistakes. Forty years ago, Editor Thomas R. Waring railed against Martin Luther King Jr. and desegregation. Today, the P&C embraces both — and has faintly apologized for its past editorial positions. Do you seriously doubt that a future editorial writer will some day be apologizing for Frank Wooten?)

4) This next incident happened several weeks ago, but it is timely and relevant. A female friend told me how she and a girlfriend went into an East Bay Street tavern for a drink at the bar after attending a play. Two men sat down next to them and lit up. My friends asked them to try to direct their smoke in the other direction. Apparently such behavior removed them from the realm of socially protected womanhood, because soon the men were directing crude and sexually suggestive remarks toward the women. My friend said she was certain the male bartender was aware of it, but did nothing to intercede. After a few minutes, the ladies paid their tab and left. The smokers won.

I have had my own experience with thuggish bartenders and bar owners. I was once told not to return to a watering hole after I asked a smoker to point his cigarette elsewhere, then furiously fanned his smoke out of my face with a newspaper (the P&C, I blush to confess) when he failed to cooperate.

The social fabric in this racially-divided city is always threadbare; the furor over smoking brings more tensions to the surface, when the outcome of this dispute is already foregone.

A new study by Harvard Medical School shows that the level of smoking among Americans is at its lowest level in half a century, and dropping.

A recent poll by the University of South Carolina's Institute for Public Service and Policy Research shows that Charlestonians recognize the dangers of cigarette smoke and want to dine and drink in a smoke-free environment. Of 618 Charleston residents polled, 70 percent would support a city ordinance prohibiting smoking inside all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Eighty-four percent think that second-hand cigarette smoke is a moderate to serious health hazard. Eighty-seven percent say that all Charleston workers should be protected from second-hand smoke in the workplace.

And yet, Charleston's own Sen. Glenn McConnell has vowed to block any legislation to control workplace tobacco smoke. He calls it a property rights issue, yet he is not on record as opposing other public health and safety measures, such as fire and sanitation inspections or signs requiring employees to wash their hands after visiting the restroom. Could the more than $5,000 he has received from the tobacco industry in recent years have influenced his opinion? (www.FollowTheMoney.org)

This issue could be decided next week if the leaders of this city and this state had the courage and integrity to take action. But there is too much tobacco money in the system, too much bullying and bad manners on the airways and in bars and restaurants for reasonable people to be heard. And so the rancor will continue, the rude and the crude will set the tone in public places, and South Carolina will bring up the rear on a major public policy issue, as it has done throughout its history.

Good manners have become another victim of the cigarette culture.


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