Orange commissioners approve smoking ban in public places

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 20, 2012 

Lakecia Gwynn stops to smoke a cigarette while waiting for the bus Monday on West Franklin Street. Gwynn, 34, started smoking when she was 15 and now smokes five or six cigarettes a day, she said. She works at Mama Dip's restaurant on Rosemary Street, where employees are not allowed to smoke, she said.

TAMMY GRUBB

  • No smoking allowed The ban prohibits smoking in these places: • County and town buildings and grounds, vehicles, parks and trails. • Bus stops, public transportation and sidewalks maintained by the county or town, such as near government buildings and schools. • Polling places, shopping malls, retail stores, elevators and public restrooms. • Child-care centers. • Galleries, libraries, museums, entertainment and sports arenas, and gaming centers, including Internet Sweepstakes and video poker. • Lobbies, hallways and other common areas in residential buildings, such as apartments, retirement centers and nursing homes. • Offices and other commercial establishments.
  • Other smoking bans • The City of Raleigh has banned smoking at the city’s transit centers and major bus stops, and in all public parks and greenways except Nash and Moore squares downtown. The ban was effective last week, but officials plan to issue warnings for several weeks before ticketing offenders. • Knightdale has banned smoking on town property, including greenways and a planned park on First Avenue. • Carolina Beach this past summer became the first North Carolina beach to ban smoking, pending a change in state law that will allow local enforcement on the beaches. •  Durham banned smoking in public places Aug. 1. Environmental Health Director Robert Brown said that while Durham violators eventually could be fined $50, police are not currently enforcing the law. The health department, instead, is posting signs to advise people of the new ordinance. “We are not looking to hand people citations for smoking on the sidewalk. We want to teach them that it’s not acceptable,” he said.
  • More information Want to quit? If you decide to quit smoking, there is help: • www.quitlinenc.com or call toll-free 800-QUITNOW (784-8669) • http://bit.ly/S9R32u – American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout

— Orange County residents heading outside to take a smoke break will have to be careful where they light up after Jan. 1.

County commissioners voted 6-1 Tuesday to ban smoking in most public places. The ban is aimed at reducing cigarette butt litter, discouraging young people from smoking, and cutting the effects of secondhand smoke, which can include cancer, heart disease and asthma attacks, health department spokeswoman Stacy Shelp said.

It broadens the scope of a 2010 state law that banned smoking in most bars, restaurants and lodging establishments.

Commissioner Earl McKee, a former tobacco farmer and smoker, said he supports additional public education but opposes the ban because of its effects on private businesses. Those that serve the public, such as retailers, could be charged for failing to enforce the law indoors. Multiple violations could generate fines of up to $200.

“I see this as a bit of government incursion, with the penalties,” he said.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs supported the ban but cautioned the board to recognize McKee’s point about government being too assertive.

Several people spoke in favor of the ban Tuesday.

Chapel Hill High School senior Brinklee Bailey showed the commissioners two gallon jars containing more than 6,000 cigarette butts collected on Franklin Street in 2010.

Smoking affects smokers but also everyone around them, she said.

“Innocent people lose their lives because of exposure to secondhand smoke,” she said.

Pharmacist Matthew Kelm, a member of the Orange County Board of Health, said most of his staff quit smoking after Durham implemented its ban Aug. 1.

“All but one of my employees has either ceased smoking or is in a smoking cessation program,” he said. “What’s more surprising to me is that some members of my team, this has become about wholesale lifestyle changes.”

The law will allow smokers to puff freely in private homes and cars, tobacco shops, designated smoking areas and private clubs. UNC-Chapel Hill has its own policy that prohibits smoking in state-owned buildings and vehicles and within 100 feet of university buildings.

The law also does not apply to smokeless products, such as electronic cigarettes, because there is not enough evidence that those products harm others, Shelp said.

“We’re really looking at this as an education and empowerment law,” Shelp said. “Part of enforcement will be empowering people to say something.”

Publicity and enforcement

Health officials already are talking with police and sheriff’s officials about how the law would be enforced, she said. Smokers will be warned during the first six months, but after July 1, they could face a $25 fine.

Pam Diggs, the county’s health promotions coordinator, said $38,000 is available through a Community Transformation grant to publicize the new law. The health department also is seeking other grants, she said. The final cost will be worked out in partnership with town and county leaders and public works officials, she said.

The county’s health board approved the ban Oct. 24 after hearing from more than 800 people, most of whom favored the ban. The biggest objection was to applying the ban to sidewalks.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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