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State Health Director Calls For Smoke-Free Workplaces

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A grim new report from the United States Surgeon General about secondhand smoke is prompting a new request from the state's health director.

Dr. Leah Devlin, state health director and director of the Division of Public Health, on Wednesday called on all North Carolina workplaces to become smoke-free. A ban in offices, restaurants and work sites can significantly decrease the impact on an employee's health, she said.

"It can't be done through dividing smokers and nonsmokers within in facilities," Devlin said. "It can't be done with separate ventilation systems, so we have to put that to bed."

The Surgeon General's report, released on Tuesday, found that nonsmokers exposed to involuntary tobacco smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.

In North Carolina, nearly 23 percent of all adults smoke while 43 percent of the population is still exposed to secondhand smoke. Blue-collar and service workers are the least likely to be protected by policies that eliminate secondhand smoke at work, Devlin said.

"It's an unfair truth that North Carolina residents least likely to be protected from secondhand smoke on the job are those with lower-paying jobs and the least amount of power to change their work situation to protect their health," she said.

Devlin said a smoke-free workplace would not only be good for an employee's health, but that it would also make everyone more productive.

"It was hard to stay focused on my job," said Najee-Ullah Shakir, a Wake County worker who was exposed at her job. "It was difficult breathing. I found myself leaving to go out for fresh air."

In April, Wake County banned smoking in and around its human services buildings. As a county employee, Shakir said her whole outlook has changed.

"I look forward to going to work," she said.

Devlin cannot force employers to comply. Despite the new research, health leaders said they do not believe they would have the full support of lawmakers to get it passed. And convincing all businesses to ban tobacco smoke would be difficult to do in a state with a history rooted in tobacco.

Still, several employers are banning tobacco use on their property. For example, 75 of the state's 115 school systems have banned all tobacco use and about 39 hospitals have gone smoke-free, Devlin said. Many restaurants have also voluntarily banned smoking.

A bill currently in the General Assembly would also ban tobacco use at the state's community colleges. A second bill that would ban tobacco use in the General Assembly buildings has already passed the Senate and could come up in the House as soon as Thursday.

The state also re-emphasized its program that offers free assistance to people who want to quit smoking. Help is available at

800-784-8669 (800-QUIT NOW)

or on the Web at




Melissa Buscher, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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