State smoking ban draws mixed reaction

First Posted: 5/14/2009

Lighting up in restaurants or bars will soon be a thing of the past in North Carolina due to a decision by the state General Assembly, a move greeted Thursday with mixed reaction locally.
Though some business representatives who commented on Wednesdays 62-56 vote by the N.C. House of Representatives see it as an intrusion on private property rights, there was agreement that the measure at least puts all establishments in the same boat.
I was raised on a tobacco farm and I never went non-smoking, Bob White of Pandowdys said of the restaurant he owns on Main Street in downtown Mount Airy.
White added that while he has resisted going smokeless as some local businesses have in recent years, only 10 percent of Pandowdys customers actually take advantage of that right.
The state should have done something about this a long time ago rather than putting us on the spot, White added of restaurant and bar owners having to make decisions regarding tobacco use on their own. Its better overall, for all the restaurants, he said of implementing the ban, to make it fair.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday gave approval to a ban that had been OKd by the state Senate Monday night, which left the final decision with the House. It had approved legislation in April to ban smoking in all public places, but members vote on Wednesday accepted the Senate version of the tobacco prohibition.
Gov. Bev Perdue has indicated that she will sign the legislation, making it law and adding North Carolina to a growing list of states taking such action.
However, the two House members who represent Surry County, Sarah Stevens and Darrell McCormick, were not among those casting aye votes for the ban.
I was disappointed that what few good amendments we put in for private business went out the window in the Senate, Stevens explained Thursday. Among those amendments was excluding adult-only establishments such as nightclubs and bars from the restriction.
I voted against concurrence with the Senate so that we could try to put some back in with a joint caucus. That did not happen, either, the local representative said.
Stevens agrees with critics charges that the state ban is unfairly penalizing a legal product, and does nothing to protect children and others from secondhand smoke they encounter elsewhere.
I agree that smoking is bad secondhand smoke is bad. But cigarettes are legal, added the Republican legislator who lives in Mount Airy.
But, she pointed out, We are not taking any steps to protect small children in their own homes from parents who smoke. These children would be some of the most susceptible to secondhand smoke and would have the most vulnerable lungs.
Stevens also agreed with a position offered by Adina Hawks, manager of Ocies Restaurant on West Lebanon Street, who believes the state government is overstepping its bounds concerning tobacco use in private establishments.
I believe it should be left up to the owners, Hawks said Thursday of the decision to allow or disallow smoking.
That argument strikes a chord with Rep. Stevens, who believes as a business owner, you should have the right to engage in lawful behavior in your establishment.
I understand prohibiting the smoking in public places where you are required to go, such as courthouses, libraries and schools, Stevens explained. You do have a choice about what restaurants you go to and what bars you attend.
Rep. McCormick could not be reached for comment Thursday concerning his position on the legislation.
But the Ocies manager said the ban by lawmakers seems to target one harmful product while ignoring another.
I am not against smoking or drinking, said Hawks, who has been the manager at Ocies since 1991. But she thinks that since cigarettes are going to be prohibited in bars and restaurants, alcohol should be as well.
Theres probably as many deaths from alcohol as secondhand smoke, Hawks said.
But she added that with some restaurants in town already going smokeless, it put pressure on those continuing to allow cigarette use. Now that everybody has to do it, I guess thats a good thing, Hawks said. Customers cant bicker about it its going to be the same wherever they go.
White, the Pandowdys owner, said he has seen tourists from more restrictive Northern states and from Florida enter his restaurant, only to walk out if they see someone in a far corner of the room smoking.
Brent Williams, who has managed Lonestar Steak House & Saloon on Woodland Drive for the past three years, said he applauds the fact that all restaurants and bars will be on a level playing field.
Its a good thing really, Williams added in indicating overall approval for the states decision. Its something we need to get these kids to quit smoking, although he acknowledged that now theyll probably just light up before they get here.
In discussing the potential effects on Lonestars business, Williams also referred to the primary reason why a person visits a restaurant in the first place: Theyre still going to want to eat whether they do smoke or not.
It was not known Thursday exactly when restaurants and bars will go smokeless, but Williams believes the ban will take effect soon.
Despite the state government wielding its power to force North Carolinians to adopt a growing trend, Bob White of Pandowdys still cant forget the good tobacco has accomplished for local farming families such as his.
If it hadnt been for tobacco, White said, we would have starved to death.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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