Local News

Support Grows for Sweeping Smoking Ban in N.C.

Posted November 29, 2006 11:10 p.m. EST
Updated November 30, 2006 9:11 a.m. EST

Some lawmakers are suggesting something that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago -- a total ban on smoking in most public places, including restaurants.

Supporters said the idea is another sign that health concerns continue to gain ground in North Carolina, while tobacco interests remain under fire.

Just in the past 18 months, lawmakers hiked the state’s cigarette tax by 25 cents, leading to what health advocates said has been a sharp decline in sales. Earlier this year, they also banned smoking in the legislative building.

Now, there's a renewed push to snuff out smoking in almost all public places.

Smoking critics said smoking sections in restaurants pose a second-hand health threat.

Rep. Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, is a lung cancer survivor who is driving the ban.

"That is a personal standpoint, but I like to think it's good public policy," he told WRAL.

There’s no question that smoking bans are spreading. Big Ed's in Raleigh's City Market is now smoke-free after 10 a.m.

"We would be foolish not to try to anticipate what our customers desires are," said owner Sam Hobgood, who said he made the change for health and business reasons. Clearing the air helped Big Ed’s lunch crowd, he said.

However, Hobgood said if the restaurant eliminated the smoking section during breakfast, that could cut up to 50 percent of morning sales. As board chair of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, he said business owners and customers should have choices.

"We can take care of our needs without having government mandated smoking policies," he said.

Plenty of tobacco-backing lawmakers agree.

"There are places people want to have smoking, and I think it's wrong to infringe on other people's rights to that point," said Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville

Other legislators, however, appear ready to create another milestone.

Rep. Alice Underhill, D-Craven, is the daughter of late Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham, who was a legendary defender of tobacco. However, she has her own issues with public smoking.

"We need to consider the issue and take into consideration people's health,” Underhill said.

About 20 other states -- most in the Northeast -- have already banned smoking in bars, restaurants, and workplaces. One North Carolina lawmaker told WRAL that a similar ban is still a long shot in North Carolina, but they predicted that it would eventually happen.