State News

Cancer survivor seeks more smoking restrictions

Posted January 29, 2009 4:01 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Sponsors talked about their reasons for pushing a bill that would ban smoking in restaurants, public places and indoor work sites in North Carolina.

House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman filed H.B. 2: Prohibit Smoking in Public & Work Places Act on the General Assembly's opening day Wednesday.

The bill would also allow localities to create stricter rules. Individuals violating it would be fined $50, and business $200, after two written warnings.

Opponents and supporters of a smoking ban both say this issue is about rights – the right to public health or the right to run lives and businesses without government interference.

"I have the right to choose where I go. What I don't want to do is tell the person who has invested $1 million in his restaurant how he has to run the restaurant, what his rules have to be, what he has to allow and what he can allow," said Sen. Eddie Goodall, R-Mecklenburg.

"I said it before, and I'll say it a million times: Somebody else's rights end when they enter my lungs," bill sponsor, Rep. Jeff Barnhart, R-Cabarrus, said.

"It is my job to improve the lives of the people of this state, and one clear way to do that is to eliminate smoking in the workplaces and public places of North Carolina," Holliman, D-Davidson, said. "This is clearly nothing short of a threat to public health."

The state spends billions each year on smoking-related health problems, said another bill sponsor, Rep. Rich Glazier, D-Cumberland County.

"It is increasing exponentially ever year, and the state simply can not economically afford to sustain that burden," Glazier said.

Holliman said he has experienced the danger of secondhand smoke firsthand – he believes it caused his two bouts with lung cancer and the death of his sister from the disease. Barnhart said his motivation is also personal.

"My father-in-law died of lung cancer," Barnhart said. "He was not a smoker. When the removed his lung, they asked him how many packs he smoked a day, it was so bad."

Opponents of a smoking ban also point to tobacco manufacturing's vital role in North Carolina's history and economy. And in other states, many restaurant and bar owners opposed smoking bans, saying they would snuff out business.

North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging officials said they would meet Tuesday before commenting on the issue publicly.

Supporters of the ban, though, say they are convinced that the state's economy can adjust.

"You know, if they can ban smoking in the pubs of Scotland and Ireland, then I don't believe we'll have a problem with that," Holliman said.

"It's long overdue. The airlines figured this out a long, long time ago, and people haven't stopped flying because of it," Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, said.

The bill would permit smoking in private residences – except those used for commercial child or adult care – and existing tobacco shops, manufacturing and processing facilities. Hotels and motels could allow smoking in up to 20 percent of their rooms.

The ban would not affect outdoor public places, but the bill would give localities the authority to enact such prohibition. Raleigh has sought permission from the General Assembly to ban smoking in city parks.

The bill would become effective immediately after getting the governor's signature if it passes.

The House narrowly defeated a similar measure that Holliman proposed four years ago. It would have required restaurants to set aside most of their dining space for nonsmokers. A broader ban passed a committee in 2007, then stopped. Lawmakers have banned smoking in prisons and state-government buildings and vehicles.