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South Carolina Lawmakers Should Reject Proposal To Take Away Public’s Right to Breathe Smoke-Free Air

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 15, 2008

Washington, D.C. — Today the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider an amendment to Senate Bill 103 that would overturn all local smoke-free workplace laws that have been enacted in the state. We strongly urge South Carolina’s leaders to reject this amendment and preserve the right of local communities to enact smoke-free laws that protect workers and the public from the serious health harms of secondhand smoke. At a time when a growing number of communities, states and even entire countries are enacting smoke-free laws, it would be an irresponsible step backward for the South Carolina Legislature to stop local governments from protecting the public’s right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.

South Carolina currently has twelve strong local smoke-free laws that protect more than 500,000 South Carolina residents and workers from exposure to secondhand smoke. By overturning these laws and stripping local communities of the power to pass smoke-free ordinances, legislators would needlessly endanger the health of workers and the public. Many workers now protected by these laws would be forced to choose between their paycheck and their health.

It is critical that South Carolina’s leaders uphold the right of local communities to pass smoke-free laws that protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air. While the state legislature has never indicated an interest in passing comprehensive statewide smoke-free legislation, local governments have passed effective laws. In addition, the State Supreme Court is currently considering the issue of local control of smoke-free restrictions. This effort to preempt local control before the court can decide plays right into the hands of the tobacco industry, which has long worked to strip local communities of their power in favor of weak statewide legislation.

The need for protection from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and public places has never been clearer. In issuing a groundbreaking report on secondhand smoke in June 2006, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.” Secondhand smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, including at least 69 carcinogens. The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year, there is no safe level of exposure and only smoke-free laws provide effective protection from secondhand smoke. The evidence is also clear that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. This evidence has compelled a growing number of states, communities and countries to enact strong smoke-free laws.