RALEIGH, N.C. — A proposed law that would have banned smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, was watered down and tentatively approved in the House on Wednesday.
"It is primarily a bill about the health of North Carolinians,” said House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, the bill's primary proponent and a lung cancer survivor.
Lawmakers voted 75-42 on Wednesday after an amendment was added that bars smoking in businesses that employ or serve anyone under age 18, but not other businesses. Smoking-friendly bars and restaurants would have to post that fact at every entrance.
Advocates said the legislation helps to eliminate the dangers of secondhand smoking.
"I am persuaded on the health issue, but I am even far more persuaded on the pure economics of the decision we have to make,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.
Opponents said the proposed law takes away a business owner's choice.
"That is his choice, (and) it's his property, it's his liberty, it's his health and it's his decision. It is not our decision,” said Rep. Johnathan Rhyne, R-Lincoln.
Other opponents said if you ban smoking, you should also ban fast food because that can cause obesity.
“This is hypocrisy. What you are doing is hypocrisy,” said Rep. Cary Allred, R-Alamance.
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.
A final House vote is scheduled on Thursday. If approved, the bill would move to the Senate.