In the annals of public health, 2012 figures to go down as a landmark year locally. Durham and now Orange counties both have enacted sweeping bans on cigarette smoking in public areas – and they define public areas in ways that would have been unthinkable not long ago.
In Orange, after Jan. 1 smoking is banned not only in county- and municipally-owned buildings and at polling places. The prohibition, which is to be enforced – eventually, after a period for education – mostly with $25 fines, also applies to shopping malls, offices, apartment hallways and sports arenas. It even bans smoking in some outdoor settings, such as bus stops and sidewalks near public buildings.
What’s left for smokers? The dwindling list includes private homes and vehicles, designated smoking areas and private clubs.
No doubt, this is an intrusive measure, affecting personal and property rights. It’s justified by an overriding public health concern: cigarette smoking causes fatal diseases. On that point, Orange County commissioners (by a 6-to-1 vote) have just made the strongest statement they possibly could.