N.C. Senate passes smoking ban

RALEIGH The measure would ban lighting up in all enclosed restaurants and bars.

Now with another "yes" vote, the bill will return to the House, which passed an earlier version extending the ban to work sites where children under age 18 visit. The House could agree with the Senate or seek a compromise.

The measure is backed by those who say secondhand smoke is a preventable health hazard for the public.

"I think it's excellent," Senator Floyd McKissick said. "We need to protect our citizens and their health. We all know that second hand smoke has tremendous damage to people."

Policy Director for the North Carolina Alliance for Health Pam Seamans said leaders have the opportunity to save lives, reduce chronic illnesses and cut unnecessary health care costs --all related to secondhand smoke exposure.

"We feel like this is truly a historic day for North Carolina and a step in the right direction by protecting all the restaurant and bar workers across the state," Seamans said.

According to the state Division of Public Health, secondhand smoke is responsible for $289 million in state health care costs resulting from lung cancer and other diseases.

While the bill is meant to protect the public's health from second hand smoke, it provides some exceptions to country clubs and non-profit establishments and some feel like that is discrimination.

"Clearly discriminated against folks who weren't members of country clubs," Senator Phil Berger said.

Senator Berger tried to introduce a last minute amendment to allow any bar that acts as a club to allow smoking, but that was shot down.

Opponents of the smoking ban argue it violates the right of business owners to choose whether to allow smoking, and of their patrons.

"If I choose to smoke, that's my choice," smoker Chris Mushall said. "If I'm a business owner and I want to allow smoking it shouldn't be dictated by the Capital. It's my choice as a business. If I'm worried about losing that business then I will change."

Though the woman who runs Sitti in downtown Raleigh says she is glad their place opened smoke free.

"Personally, I enjoy it, just tasting my food, enjoying my drinks," non-smoker Paige Gunther said. "I don't like leaving a place smelling like an ashtray and having smoke in my hair and in my clothes."

Despite the vote, smoking out on the street after a meal will still be allowed.

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