NC has no need to revisit smoking ban

Greensboro News & RecordAugust 21, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:

When North Carolina enacted a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, some opponents worried those businesses would lose customers. It hasn’t happened, according to a study conducted in nine states, including North Carolina.

“Our research found that smoke-free laws do not have a negative economic impact on aggregate restaurant or bar employment or revenues,” reported lead author Brett Loomis of RTI International, a North Carolina research firm hired by the CDC Foundation. The privately funded foundation is affiliated with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health advocates already knew that prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants would improve health for customers and employees by eliminating their exposure to secondhand smoke. Their argument is strengthened by research showing there’s no economic cost to the policy.

This information should help hold off any attempts to weaken North Carolina’s law.

The Regulatory Reform Act passed by the General Assembly last month contains a small section that might lead in that direction. It orders the state’s Commission for Public Health to “clarify its rules” for the smoking ban in restaurants and bars to ensure “consistent interpretation and enforcement” and then report back to the legislature. Health advocates should watch this process to be sure that “clarification” does not result in weakening.

While the RTI study captured the overall experience of bars and restaurants related to the smoking ban, it missed the dynamics. Do fewer smokers go out for a meal or a drink because they can’t smoke in bars and restaurants? Do more nonsmokers go out because they can better enjoy a meal and a drink without breathing secondhand smoke? For people who have a choice, smoking rules might make a difference.

Previous rules allowing smoking in designated sections of restaurants attempted to strike a balance but failed. Even in well-ventilated spaces, cigarette smoke could drift into other areas.

Employees were the biggest losers, breathing secondhand smoke for an entire shift, day after day. They were free to quit their jobs, but sacrificing one’s health should never be a condition of employment.

The debate over smoking continues to take new turns. Opponents are aggressive, seeking to ban smoking from more outdoor spaces. Smokers are pushed to parking lots and sidewalks, or beyond, in the name of public health. How far is enough is a question that remains to be answered.

But the discussion about indoor spaces such as restaurants and bars should be settled. No-smoking policies there improve health and don’t harm businesses. That leaves no reason to revisit that subject.

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