Local News

Mecklenburg Smoking Ban Proposal Faces Uphill Battle

Posted December 22, 2004

— Mecklenburg County is considering a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

To do that, state law would first have to be changed and that's where the idea could get snuffed out.

For one, the idea doesn't go over well with smokers.

"I guess it is bad for you but I think it's everybody's choice," said Kerry Ray, a smoker. "There are a lot of bad things for you, alcohol, what's the difference."

Under state law, a city or county cannot outlaw smoking, only encourage businesses to prohibit lighting up.

Mecklenburg County commissioners may ask the Legislature to modify the law or grant the county an exemption.

Then, the commissioners could consider a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.

"I would guess it would be a very political issue," said Raleigh City Council Member Janet Cowell, who was just elected to the State Senate.

Cowell and two other Raleigh council members we spoke with don't support a ban.

Cowell has a hard time thinking a majority of state lawmakers would allow it.

"We are one of the only general assemblies that still smokes on the (legislative) floor," Cowell said. "So I think we'd need to address that and regulate ourselves before we start regulating other people."

One local restaurant, Irregardless Cafe, has been smoke free for 20 years.

The restaurant is part of a Wake County program that urges restaurants to prohibit smoking.

Owner Arthur Gordon says he can see a ban hurting some more than others.

"In the critical mass of a bar, it's really difficult from an economic point of view," Gordon said. "It's difficult to tell somebody that you can't run your business the way you want to, on the other side, the public health has something to do with it."

Earlier this year, Cary Council Town Council Member Nels Roseland talked about a possible smoking ban there.

That sparked a lot of opposition, and the town decided not to pursue it. Instead, Cary supports the county health department's voluntary no-smoking program.

Seven states have statewide smoking bans: California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island.

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