House approves smoking ban

April 2, 2009 3:23:59 PM PDT
North Carolina - a state built on tobacco - Thursday took a major step toward banning smoking in most public places. In the Legislature, the house voted 72 - 45 on a bill that prohibits lighting up in restaurants and workplaces where children are allowed. The idea is to protect patrons and employees from second-hand smoke.

Bars and other businesses that don't allow those under 18 are exempt.

Debate inside the legislature was emotional - opponents argued the effects of second-hand smoke are exaggerated.

"We have scared people into believing that if they walk into a smoke-filled room for 30 minutes and breathe, they're gonna drop dead from a heart attack," argued Marilyn Avila, (R) Wake.

Supporters disagreed.

"If you choose to eat too much, too many Twinkies or whatever, that affects your health. But if you choose to smoke in someone else's presence, in an enclosed area, that does not just affect your health, that affects the health of the people around you," said Jennifer Weiss, (D) Wake.

Some of those who voted against it were critical the bill only hits smokers - not other perceived vices like alcohol.

"If you're going to ban smoking in public places, restaurants and bars, then you should ban the consumption of alcohol in public in front of children," challenged Cary Allred, (R) Alamance.

There again, the majority who voted for the ban had a counter-argument distinguishing smoking from drinking.

"If somebody wants to drink and they want to be a heavy drinker and they have a liver problem, I feel for 'em. But if they're gonna drink and I'm gonna get the liver problem, I've got a problem with that," said Jeff Barnhart, (R) Cabarrus

The bill as it stands now leaves places like Woody's in downtown Raleigh with a decision to make. It's a restaurant by day and bar by night - and you can smoke. Under the bill, Woody's will have to either become smoke-free or prevent any kids from coming in to eat.

"They need to be one or the other it can be a bar or it can be a restaurant," explained Hugh Holliman, (D) Davidson.

"How it's gonna affect us, I really don't know, considering that we are a restaurant during the day and a bar at night," offered manager Jon Peralta. "Our non-smoking area is separate from the bar. So it's not like the smoke can travel that far, or at least I don't know if it would or wouldn't."

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand tells Eyewitness News he believes the bill will have "significant support" in the Senate. He doesn't expect the Senate to get to it for a few weeks.


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