State News

N.C. House passes limited smoking ban

Posted April 1, 2009
Updated April 2, 2009

— The North Carolina House has approved a bid to ban secondhand smoke from restaurants and other businesses where children are present.

Lawmakers in the country's top tobacco-growing state voted 72-45 on Thursday to send the proposed limit on secondhand smoke to the state Senate, where top leaders said they expect the limited smoking ban to pass.

Capitol Link logo House passes limited ban on smoking in public

A broader proposal that would have banned smoking from all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, was changed Wednesday. The measure now would ban smoking in businesses that employ or serve anyone under age 18, but not to most other businesses.

The already weak enforcement provisions survived efforts on Thursday to make fines for businesses that break the law even more rare.

The smoking ban is a personal quest for its lead sponsor, lung cancer survivor and House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman. The Davidson County Democrat said he could delay consideration beyond Wednesday based on whether he counts more supporters or opponents on hand when the roll is called.

A similar effort narrowly failed in the House two years ago, as the trade group representing the state's 16,000 restaurants successfully protested an exception for private clubs.

But this year, the state's restaurateurs are neutral on the issue, which this time includes private clubs, and health advocates have marshaled money and grassroots networks to overload House members' offices with e-mails and telephone calls.

"We believe the vote count is pretty close, but we do believe we have made significant headway this year and we think the vote (House) will go in our favor," said American Heart Association lobbyist Betsy Vetter. "We think the Senate likewise will vote in our favor."

If North Carolina's smoking ban is approved this year, the state would become the 35th - and perhaps one of the most unlikely - to join a national trend of segregating the one in five Americans who smoke.

For decades, the state's politicians protected both cigarette makers and the thousands of tobacco growers whose crop was worth $686 million to North Carolina farmers in 2008 - nearly half the value of the entire U.S. output and 80 percent more than the next largest producer.

But times are changing. An Elon University poll last month found about two-thirds of North Carolinians backed a ban on public smoking indoors, and eight in 10 said they consider secondhand smoke a threat to their health.

It's a feeling shared across the tobacco-growing South.

Despite a 400-year history with tobacco that turned Virginia into the richest colony in pre-Revolution America, the state's first substantial limit on tobacco use was signed into law this month. Kentucky and South Carolina, two other leading tobacco states, have also allowed local regulations of indoor smoking. Tennessee is one of three states that exempt restaurants and bars that don't admit people under the age of 18 or 21.

Wednesday's vote in the House will take place the same day the largest federal tobacco tax increase in history takes effect. Congress also is stirring with legislation that would let the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.

Opponents of the North Carolina smoking ban argue restaurants and other businesses should choose for themselves whether they want to welcome or turn away smokers.

"A lot of people talk about restaurants, but it reaches all small business," said Fred Bone, a lobbyist for Greensboro-based Lorillard Inc., which makes Newport cigarettes. That includes his family's used car lot in Rocky Mount, which employs smokers as the only mechanic and the only salesman, he said.

"We don't need to ban a legal product across the board," Bone said. "You simply have a property rights issue - should a person be able to smoke in his own business?"

Not if anyone else is close enough to inhale his smoke, say smoking-ban advocates like Steven Adams, who owns the Peak City Grill and Bar in Apex. The ex-smoker prohibited smoking inside his eatery when he opened three years ago both because 80 percent of the public are nonsmokers, but also out of concern for his own health and that of his workers.

"I actually bought the idea that you could let the market dictate. But I guess if the alternative that if you had signs that walking into this restaurant can be hazardous to your health, then customers would have a real choice," Adams said. "It's got to be hazardous."

The smoking ban is a personal quest for its lead sponsor, House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, a lung cancer survivor. He said he plans to use his position to jockey the legislation through a vote that could be close. He said he could delay consideration beyond Wednesday based on whether he counts more supporters or opponents on hand when the roll is called.

"It will be close," he said. "We'll be looking at who's here and who's not here."


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  • Shadow213 Apr 6, 2009

    i have to admit that i really do hate the fact that my clothes reak of cigarrette smoke after a night out. but i suppose if i was REALLY worried about second-hand smoke, i could just not go to those places.

  • TheLibertine Apr 3, 2009

    NCMacMan: Actually you're wrong -- tobacco is not a dying industry in this country at all. While American use of tobacco may be declining, there's a boom in tobacco use by the Chinese.

    So quite frankly, if I'm in the tobacco business here, I'm:

    a) not focused on the local market anyway because I'm making good money on foreign sales; and
    b) hoping the US bans it because the black market will create more value anyway. (See our failed war on drugs for the past however many decades; also see the failed 18th Amendment.)

  • TheLibertine Apr 3, 2009

    The nanny state strikes again!

  • Weaker Pelosi Apr 3, 2009

    I don't smoke but have to admit that I love the way they smell when first lit.

  • Objective Scientist Apr 3, 2009

    Is this a personal issue? Is a individual rights issue? Yes and yes. How many of us have family members, friends, acquaintances who have disease and disability due to tobacco? Likewise for those who have died due to or complications exacerbated by tobacco? I can answer yes for family, friends and acquaintances and multiple people in each category. The impact of first hand smoke... mountains of evidence implicate tobacco. Almost as much scientific evidence does the same for second hand smoke... not to mention likewise for the "smokeless" tobacco products. Tobacco has been HUGE in the socio-economic and political history of NC. Tremendously positive economically, but tremendously negative with regard to health and well-being of NC citizens. We must not only envision a NC without tobacco... growing it, manufacturing products from it, and using it, but we must move to create a NC without tobacco. Tobacco's health cost is too great. The welfare of the general populace must take priority.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 3, 2009

    RideItOut, since you say you “stand for freedom of private business to do as they please”, would you support (and patronize) businesses who ignore gov’t safety laws such as keeping uncooked food in a refrigerator, employees washing hands after using the bathroom, no employees with communicable diseases, sneeze shields on buffets, etc.? These are also SAFETY laws designed to protect the public and, yes, they put a burden on businesses. Whatchathink?

    HM_Stitches, please provide YOUR empirical evidence generated from double-blind, peer-reviewed scientific studies that show that the FDA’s basis, on studies of the same caliber, are all WRONG about smoking causing cancer. The world awaits your data. Do it...and you’d be rich & famous beyond your wildest dreams.

  • htomc42 Apr 3, 2009

    Excuse me, "nothing to do with rights?"

    I wasn't aware that our basic rights and freedoms were up to the whims of any arbitrary mob. That is why we are (supposedly, ideally) a Republic of limited government and not a pure democracy (mob rule). The sound you hear in the background is our Founders spinning in their graves.

  • NCMacMan Apr 3, 2009

    This has nothing to do with property rights, personal freedom for smokers, Big Brother, or any other derivative arguement for such.

    This comes down to these facts:
    * 80% of North Carolinians support a smoking ban
    * Smoking is dangerous to others' health who are exposed to the second hand smoke
    * Tobacco related healthcare costs are skyrocketing

    North Carolina has already reaped the rewards for supporting the big tobacco firms. At this point, tobacco is a dying industry in this country. I would like to know, however, how many of the covered state employee health plan participants have been treated for smoking related illnesses / injuries. Jack Walker, can you provide this information to us, please?

  • readme Apr 3, 2009

    I still think it's the individual business owner's right to choose to allow smoking. All you non-smokers can choose not to go there. You know who you are, you complain about it all the time then turn around and still give these places business. i can think of several good bars and restaurants I go to because they don't allow smoking, but a lot of you complainers don't bother to even look into it, you just complain. This is a dangerous path we go down when we legislate away freedoms like this just because of a majority decision.

  • 2headstrong Apr 3, 2009

    Oh good. This opens up the market for 18-and-older-only restaurants, where adults can have a good meal in a child-free environment, smoke if they wish, and enjoy a reduction in comments heard from the sanctimonious.

    Specialization can be so beautiful. :)