Local News

Restaurant smoking ban begins Saturday

Posted December 29, 2009 6:33 p.m. EST
Updated December 29, 2009 11:16 p.m. EST

— A statewide ban on smoking in most restaurants and bars takes effect on Saturday and businesses are taking measures to make sure their customers are aware.

Sammy's Tap & Grill, 2235 Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh, for example, is putting up a sign to let customers know that smoking is no longer permitted.

Owner Sammy Stephens said he doesn't support the ban but will comply with the law.

“We feel for the customer who smokes, but unfortunately we can't make the rules,” he said. “I believe in freedoms, and I believe in choices. So for me to say, ‘You can't do this, but you can do that,’ you know I don't think that's the way we operate here."

Stephens is not alone in his views on the smoking law.

“I think the individual restaurant owners ought to be able to make their own decision whether they want smoking,” restaurant patron Ron Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said the ban will actually stop him from going to a bar or restaurant frequently.

“It will definitely cut down on it,” he said.

State Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, voted for the smoking ban, citing the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure.

“It's about public health. Places where people go out in the public should be safe for them and for their children,” Ross said.

Those in support of the ban say the time was right for North Carolina to go smoke-free.

“Personally, I like the fact that there's not going to be smoking,” restaurant patron Frank Milchuck said.

“People adapt very quickly. They know what new rules are, and they generally will abide by them. And I think everybody will be healthier for it,” Ross said.

Tegegne Wondafrash, owner of the Harrar Hookah Cafe, 2109 Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh, said he plans to keep selling tobacco after the law takes effect. He questions why the law should apply to his business.

“Exclusively, this place is a tobacco place. People are coming here to smoke tobacco only. So we should be exempt,” he said.

Wondafrash said he has spoken with some other hookah bar owners and they plan to appeal if they get fined.

Businesses that break the no-smoking law can be fined up to $200 per day, and smokers themselves could get burned with a $50 fine if they keep puffing after they're told to stop.

Enforcing the law will be driven by complaints from the public.

To file a complaint, people can call the local health department, complete an online form at the SmokeFree.NC.gov Web site or call the N.C. CARE-LINE toll-free at 800-662-7030.

Inspectors will give a restaurant at least two written warnings before imposing a fine.

Non-profit private clubs, country clubs and cigar bars are exempt from the smoking restrictions. In order for a cigar bar to qualify for the exception, it must satisfy a list of criteria.