Local Politics

Smoking ban heads to Gov. Perdue's desk

Posted May 13, 2009 11:07 a.m. EDT
Updated May 13, 2009 10:50 p.m. EDT

— The House narrowly approved a broad indoor smoking ban Wednesday that was previously passed by the Senate, delivering another jolt to the tobacco industry that once was a key piece of North Carolina's economy.

House Bill 2, which lawmakers approved by a 62-56 vote, bans smoking in nearly all restaurants and bars. Private clubs and cigar bars are exempted from the no-smoking restrictions.

The bill now heads to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk, and she said Wednesday that she was ready to sign it into law.

"Today is an important and historic day for North Carolina," Perdue said in a statement. "I have vigorously supported efforts to reduce and eliminate smoking, and this bill will help more North Carolina citizens avoid the dangers of second-hand smoke."

House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said the proposal is a good step toward protecting the public's health.

"Tobacco has a great legacy in North Carolina. It's done some great things, (but) certainly, people have a right to smoke-free air," said Holliman, D-Davidson, who has survived two battles with lung cancer.

Anti-smoking advocates praised the House's move while lamenting that some workplaces weren't covered by the bill.

"North Carolina restaurant and bar workers and patrons will be able to breathe easier at work and at play," Pam Seamans, policy director for the North Carolina Alliance for Health, said in a statement. "Although North Carolina did not achieve smoke-free workplaces for all employees, which was the original intent of the bill, (Wednesday's) vote marks a huge step in the right direction."

But others said the measure violated individual freedoms.

"This is a tobacco state. It built Wake Forest and Duke (universities). All of them, they were built with tobacco (money)," said Rhonda Selph, co-owner of Watkins Grill on Atlantic Avenue in Raleigh.

Selph said her customers appreciate the choice between sitting in smoking or non-smoking sections, and she doesn't want that option taken away from them.

"They're regulating everybody. It's getting worse and worse," she said. "They're stomping on everybody's rights. We don't have rights anymore. It's really upsetting."

State Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said he agrees with critics that state lawmakers crossed the line with the smoking ban.

"If someone owns a piece of property, and if it's a legal process – if it involves a legal activity – they should be allowed to do that," Hunt said.

Bar owners react to smoking ban

Some bars owners said Wednesday evening they should be able to choose for themselves whether they want to welcome or turn away smokers.

"I find it rather annoying that they're going to turn me into the police,” said Van Alston, owner of Slim's bar.

Alston opened Slim's Downtown, 227 S. Wilmington St. in Raleigh, 10 years ago. He said the smoking ban is nothing short of the long arm of “Big Brother.”

“Already, you can't smoke pot. So, we don't allow pot smoking in here. But cigarettes are a legal product. I see no reason why on my private property, I can't allow patrons to smoke a legal product,” Alston said.

Steven Adams owns the Peak City Grill and Bar, 126 N Salem St. in Apex. The ex-smoker prohibited smoking inside his establishment 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.

“If you assume one out of four people smoke, I’ll go for the other three and it has paid off,” Adams said.

The non-smoking atmosphere is why Judy Hendrickson said she likes Peak City.

"I have allergies and cigarette smoke, or tobacco smoke of any kind, is a real problem for me,” Hendrickson said.

Patrons will be allowed to smoke outside, but Alston said he think the smoking ban will eventually hurt his bar business.

“If people have to stop drinking to go out and smoke a cigarette, that's less they're going to be able to drink,” Alston said.

“I’m going to miss it personally,” patron Rhoda Bruington said of smoking inside Slim's.

The law would allow fines of up to $50 for smokers who keep puffing after being asked by an establishment's managers to stop.