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Smoking ban sparks debate about rights, health risks

Posted January 1, 2010
Updated January 2, 2010

— Restaurant customers and owners and health advocates debated rights and risks before North Carolina's new smoking ban took effect Saturday.

Cigarette Smoking Generic Rights, health at debate in smoking ban

In Durham, Gary Richards enjoyed a pre-meal smoke before eating a meat-lover's pizza at Satisfaction Restaurant & Bar in Brightleaf Square, a former tobacco warehouse.

"There's smokers, and there's nonsmokers. We've gotten along in the past," Richards said. "Why can't I come in here and have my beer and a couple of slices of pizza and a cigarette?"

A diner at Sammy's Tap and Grill in Raleigh disagreed. "Personally, I like the fact that there's not going to be smoking," customer Frank Milchuck said.

At Bill's Barbecue in Wilson, another tobacco town, Daisy Turner also praised the ban. "They should have done it years ago," she said.

The owner of Sammy's and another customer there expressed their opposition to the ban in terms of rights.

"I think the individual restaurant owners ought to be able to make their own decision whether they want smoking," customer Ron Fitzgerald said.

"I believe in freedom, and I believe in choices," owner Sammy Stephens said. "So, for me, to say you can't do this, but you can do that, you know, I don't think that's the way we operate here."

The owners of Bill's Barbecue in Wilson, who support the ban, reduced their smoking section to three tables after the bill was passed eight months ago.

"We're excited about it," restaurant co-owner Tracy Ellis said. "It's more acceptance than anything. (It's gotten) a lot of positive reviews. You know, people who don't smoke, they really don't want to smell it when they eat."

Lawmakers said they were motivated to approve the bill in 2009, after years of failing to do so, primarily by the dangers of secondhand smoke to workers.

"This law doesn't tell anybody they shouldn't smoke," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Hugh Holliman, a lung cancer survivor whose sister died of lung cancer. "It's saying nonsmokers should have the same right to breathe clean air."

Gloria Mayfield, of Maryland, expressed her agreement while eating at Bill's Barbecue during a visit with friends.

"It's going to help prevent people from getting ill," she said.

North Carolina, the country's leading tobacco producer, is the 29th state to ban smoking in restaurants and 24th for bars, according to the American Lung Association.

Other traditional tobacco-growing states have few, if any, statewide restrictions on smoking in public places and work sites. Virginia adopted a ban Dec. 1 but exempts restaurants and bars with separate ventilation systems for smoking and nonsmoking sections.

"Nationally, it's a huge step," said Thomas Carr, the lung association's national policy manager. "It just proves that if North Carolina can do it, then any state can prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants."

North Carolina exempts nonprofit private clubs, country clubs and cigar bars from the ban. To qualify, a cigar bar must satisfy a list of criteria.

Businesses violating the ban can be fined up to $200 per day, and smokers could be fined $50 if they keep smoking after being told to stop.

Enforcing the law will be driven by complaints from the public filed at local health departments, online at SmokeFree.NC.gov or from a call to 800-662-7030.

Tobacco's role in North Carolina has changed as the state has shifted from from a predominantly agricultural economy to one led by manufacturing and most recently by services and technology.

In 1978, tobacco accounted for 34 percent, or $1.1 billion, of all farm income. Thirty years later, tobacco production fell to $687 million, or 7 percent of farm income, according to federal agricultural data. The amount of tobacco grown also fell, from about 850 million pounds to 390 million pounds.

Still, about 21 percent of the state's adult population smoked in 2008, compared with 18 percent nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the debate, restaurants and bars had to be prepared Friday for the ban to begin at midnight. The owners at Hi 5 in Raleigh put out "no smoking" and took away ash trays during the day.

Adam Cobb, a manager at Hi 5, said heaters were installed outdoors on Friday for smokers.

At Players Retreat in Raleigh, owner Gus Gussler said the ashtrays will be picked up at midnight.

"We are going to smoke a cigar right before the deadline at midnight," Gussler said.

Leonard Squires said that he and other smokers who eat at Bill's Barbecue will have to adapt to the changes.

"My wife and some of her friends are not smokers, and I've learned to appreciate their perspective of it," Squires said. "Therefore, I have no problem going outside to smoke a cigarette."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • genie2u Jan 11, 2010

    And you don't even have to look at rights of smokers or non smokers, look at the right of the business owners to CHOOSE.

    imagine you own the building, you own the land, you own the business but the gov't says you cannot smoke in there and your patrons cannot.

    Non smokers have plenty of choices for places to go that do NOT allow smoking so do NOT go in ones that do. Stop crying

  • genie2u Jan 11, 2010

    It should be up to the owner to decide what business they want and then we can decide whether to spend our money there or not. We are becoming a nanny state.

  • Tired of thoughtlessness Jan 8, 2010

    Smoke outside! I come INSIDE to eat, not to get secondhand smoke.

  • blondton13 Jan 1, 2010

    Now let's hope that restaurant and bar owners set up a smoking area outside the establishment that is not directly in front of the entrance...which most of them won't. And of course the "holier-than-thou" nonsmokers will have another reason to complain. So should the next law read "No smoking within 500 feet of said establishment?" And it goes on and on...

  • balog Jan 1, 2010

    So before posting i closed for the weekend, here is some food for thought:

    Interesting how the very same people who are hemming and hawing about these poor smokers freedoms being trampled on, and the business owners' right to choose all crowing about how the government has no right to take away these "freedoms" yet these are the same people who try to subvert due process and sneak in law after law telling women they do not have a right to choose. A whole other debatable topic I know, but the point being is we need to try and remember that WE THE PEOPLE make up the government. We elect our representatives to legislate, execute and interperate the laws. If WE THE PEOPLE do not like the laws, then we exercise our power to speak with our elected officials and if that proves no good, we vote in a new official. When the majority of people ask the legislators for a law, the majority rules. That i how the process works.
    People want to breath clean air and eat in comfort. The people have spoke

  • WooHoo2You Jan 1, 2010

    This is just my two cents…

    There is a bar downtown that has a few pool tables, a bar (of course), and music that is WAY TOO LOUD. My friends love the place, I hate it. Only do to the fact of the volume of the music. It is not a dance club just a bar. The business owner made the choice to have loud music that could damage someone’s hearing and I choose not to go with my friends when they hang out there. Should the government regulate the volume of music across the board at all bars, stores, etc ? There are some stores at the mall I do not shop at for the same reason. I do not complain about the music; I just do not spend my money there…

    Same should go for smoking.

  • Smokin Jan 1, 2010

    I can't believe the number of nannies here. It should be up to the owner of the establishment. Period. You don't like the smoke, don't go there.If the owner doesn't want smoking, more power to them. We are slipping more and more into the government taking care of us and giving up our personal freedoms in the process.

    The "dangers" of second hand smoke are as bogus as global warming. There's more danger jogging along a road with engine exhaust going into your lungs.

  • Lyle Jan 1, 2010

    And as for business suffering, it will not. This is not reinventing the wheel. This legislation has been done in many other states and countries before NC, even in English pubs!! Business will actually grow.

  • Lyle Jan 1, 2010

    I smoked for 30 years, still do occasionally, and I am glad they have banned it from indoors. There are no "rights" associated with spewing poisons into the air for all to breathe. They did away with restaurant and bar smoking in MA when I lived there and you just deal with it.

  • kuzin11 Jan 1, 2010

    When you use the word "force", it means that you were forced by something or someone external unless you forced yourself to be exposed to this or that. If you went to an establishment with smokers and you stayed then you forced yourself. The smokers did not force you just like this new law will not force smokers to eat here or there. It will be their choice. Isn't it funny that when a restaurant is crowded, the healthy conscience person will sometimes take the first available. They must have been forced.
    This is about money. Insurance companies are reaping the benefits of laws against smoking, speeding and the forthcoming laws of being overweight. New York passed a law against smoking outside within 20 feet of a child. Give me a break. At work, I get complaints about someone smelling of smoke when they come back in from smoking outside. I guess we should fire all smokers to protect the sensitive nasal passages of nonsmokers. Give up your freedoms but don't jeopardize mine.