New Durham smoking ban starts Wednesday

Light up in the wrong place and you could face a $50 fine

CorrespondentAugust 1, 2012 

  • The New Rules The new rules, which take effect today (Aug. 1), prohibit smoking in the following areas: • City and county grounds • City and county parks and trails • Public property within 100 feet of public bus stops • Durham Station Transportation Center and the train station (except as specifically designated) • Sidewalks owned, leased or maintained by the city or county and that border city or county property, public schools or hospitals To file a smoking complaint, call the Health Department’s Environmental Health division at 919-560-7800.

— On a corner downtown recently, a group of men debated an expanded smoking ban that could cost violators $50.

The new rules – described by local leaders as some of the most progressive in the state, if not the Southeast – take effect today, Aug. 1

They prohibit smoking on various public properties, including within 100 feet of bus stops; in public parks and on trails; and on public sidewalks abutting schools, hospitals, and city and county property.

The rules don’t affect private property.

The change will affect much of downtown with its parks, public buildings, and DATA and Bull City Connector bus stops.

The county will host a kickoff event and educational fair at 9 a.m. at the American Tobacco Campus in Bay 7.

The rules create yet more limits for smokers. In 1993, Durham County buildings were declared smoke free.

In 2010, a state law banned smoking in most bars, restaurants and many lodging establishments.

“It’s kind of a negative to me,” said Maurice Jackson, 48, who was smoking a cigarette on a work break with his colleagues last week.

“This city was basically born out of tobacco.”

Clark Kent, 55, said smokers will light up, fine or no fine.

Enforcement will be complaint driven, said Health Department spokesman Eric Nickens. You can report violations to the Durham County Health Department, which will contact law enforcement.

Failure to stop smoking after an oral or written warning could result in a fine of up to $50.

John Robinson, 30, a nonsmoker, rebuffed his colleagues’ smoking and perspective.

“First of all, I think it is a nasty habit,” Robinson said.

Second, he said, he doesn’t think people’s right to smoke should interfere with his right not to inhale secondhand smoke.

Health Director Gayle Harris agrees.

“It would be great to walk down the street without having to walk through a cloud of smoke,” Harris said.

The rules cite a 2006 U.S. Surgeon General report indicating that there is “no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and that secondhand smoke has been proven to cause cancer, heart disease and asthma attacks in both smokers and nonsmokers.”

The rules also cite studies indicating that when someone is smoking, outdoor levels of secondhand smoke may be as high as indoor levels.

The smoke could pose a health risk to people nearby, such as someone sitting on a park bench or a child accompanying a parent.

The rule seeks to protect and benefit Durham’s most vulnerable population, Harris said.

“People waiting at bus stops,” she said.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed the rules in February and allocated nearly $76,000 to pay for signs and education.

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow called the rules “one of the most progressive ordinances in the state if not, possibly in the Southeast.”

Harris agreed.

Melissa Norton, with Downtown Durham Inc., said she hasn’t heard any opposition from downtown businesses.

“It doesn’t mean that we won’t, but we haven’t heard anything yet,” she said.

Meanwhile, an unrelated change downtown will affect another side effect of smoking: cigarette butts.

Walking around downtown, visitors can see butts in sidewalks cracks, speckling street plantings and peppering the ground near benches.

“We see it every day,” said Matthew Coppedge, also with Downtown Durham Inc.

However, in the next few weeks downtown will start to benefit from a new 7-cent per $100 tax on downtown property owners.

The “business improvement district” enhancements include a new team of ambassadors to clean the sidewalks and other areas.

“Downtown will be much cleaner and safer,” Coppedge said.

Bridges: 919-564-9330

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