Durham considers expanding public smoking ban
Posted November 23, 2011
Durham, N.C. — The reminders of Durham's tobacco history are all around the Bull City with names such as Brightleaf, Liggett & Myers and Lucky Strike.
But as awareness of the dangers of cigarette smoke and second-hand smoke spreads, that history is fading.
"I'm old enough to remember when people smoked in grocery stores and shopping centers and those kinds of things," Durham County Health Director Gayle Harris said Wednesday.
That all changed in 1993 when leaders passed a smoking ordinance limiting where smokers could smoke in public. The restrictions were tightened even more several years ago when a state law went into effect, banning smoking in restaurants.
The state also gives local governments more authority to ban smoking in other places. Now, Harris is leading the charge to do just that.
"We are touted as the City of Medicine, and we would like to be the community of health," Harris said.
The Durham City Council and county Board of Commissioners are considering a ban on smoking at public places, such as playgrounds and recreational facilities, or within 150 feet of them, enforced by up to a $50 fine.
Durham resident and mother J'Ingrid Mathis likes the idea.
"It's a public health issue for all of us, so if we can protect our young kids, it's a great thing," she said.
The proposed ban would also cover city and county buildings, along with the sidewalks outside them as well as bus stops and the transit station.
"We chose the sidewalks and bus stops, because a lot of the vulnerable populations are there,” Harris said.
Some people are saying the proposal goes too far.
"They've already banned smoking in most other places, but to not be able to smoke in a public area – I disagree with that," said Durham resident Kevin Boggs.
Harris says limiting where people can smoke is a matter of protecting the community.
"It's also not fair to expose people to secondhand smoke," Harris said.
Now, she'll wait to see if local leaders agree.
The City Council discussed the idea this week, but didn't vote on it. Commissioners could start discussions as early as next month. The proposal would need approval from both bodies to become law.