Lawmakers ponder NC smoking ban

RALEIGH North Carolina is behind many other states that cut off smoking in places that serve food years ago. Only 16 states in the nation, including North Carolina, have no controls.

At a news conference Thursday, House Majority Leader and cancer survivor Hugh Holliman said there's no doubt second-hand smoke is a health hazard.

He's the chief sponsor of a bill expanding prohibitions on smoking that lawmakers already have approved for prisons and state government buildings.

Co-sponsor Rep. Rich Glazier of Cumberland County said annual health care costs associated with smoking in North Carolina are in the billions of dollars.

This isn’t the first time the General Assembly has tackled the issue. The House narrowly defeated a measure four years ago that would have required restaurants to set aside most of their dining space for nonsmokers.

Another bill passed a committee in 2007 but went no further.

Meanwhile, the Civitas Institute released a poll that claims the majority of North Carolinians want bar and restaurant owners to be able to set their own smoking policies.

Their research released Thursday asked the question: “Would you support or oppose legislation allowing a restaurant, bar or tavern owner to decide their own smoking policy as long as the policy was clearly posted at the entrance to their business?”

Sixty two percent said they'd support the legislation and 34 percent said they were opposed.

Civitas Senior Legislative Analyst Chris Hayes was clearly against the proposed ban.

“Rep. Holliman’s draconian ban leaves no exception for restaurant or bar owners to have the ability to set their own policy,” he said in a statement. “Voters clearly recognize that private businesses should be able to set their own policies for a legal activity, such as smoking, so long as the public is adequately informed before entering the establishment.”

Groups like the American Lung Association come down on the other side of the argument. It quotes the Surgeon General as saying there is no safe level for exposure to tobacco smoke.

In its recently released annual report on the state of tobacco control, it gave North Carolina an F in four areas: tobacco prevention and control spending, smoke free air, cigarette taxes, and cessation coverage.

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