Local Politics

Bill Would Extinguish Indoor Smoking Statewide

Posted March 20, 2007 1:20 p.m. EDT
Updated March 21, 2007 8:58 a.m. EDT

— Dismissing North Carolina's heritage as a tobacco state, a House committee passed a far-reaching indoor smoking ban.

The Judiciary Committee passed the ban Tuesday by a 9-4 vote. The measure would prohibit smoking in all indoor workplaces in North Carolina, including bars and restaurants. The rules also would apply to private clubs, except those with nonprofit or tax-exempt status.

The measure would be complaint-driven -- local health departments would act on complaints from the public -- and violators would first receive warnings.

"This was a significant and important event to advance the public's health in North Carolina," said Dr. Leah Devlin, director of the state Division of Public Health.

But critics of the legislation, House Bill 259, pointed out that it faces an uphill battle on the House and Senate floors.

"What they really want is a complete prohibition of indoor smoking in North Carolina," said state Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. "We all know smoking is nasty and dangerous. The question is whether, in a free society, you let people do some things that are nasty and dangerous."

Some opponents said passing the bill could set the stage for similar bans inside personal vehicles and homes.

"You want to smoke and you own the building. Is it really that bad for the public?" asked state Rep. Ronnie Sutton, D-Robeson.

Despite opposition to previous anti-smoking legislation, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association doesn't plan to fight the smoking ban. Executive director Paul Stone said the group just wants to make sure bars and restaurants are treated the same.

"I think the vast majority of restaurants will maintain the same business because a majority are already smoke-free," Stone said.

If the bill makes it through the General Assembly, North Carolina would join 22 other states and Washington, D.C., in banning indoor smoking.