Seeking outdoor smoking bans can be trouble

Sep. 16, 2013 @ 10:06 AM

Local officials considering smoking bans at public outdoor areas could have a fight on their hands, a Chapel Hill council member told a gathering of local officials Thursday.
In 2010, North Carolina became the first southeastern state to completely prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars. Guilford County also has a smoking ban in all public buildings that includes city and town buildings. Durham and Orange counties have extended their bans to some sidewalks and bus stops. State law gives local governments authority to adopt stricter bans.
County health boards can pass smoking bans on their own. If county commissioners endorse a ban, it becomes effective countywide and cities and towns can’t “opt out.”
That was the problem in Chapel Hill, said Lee Storrow, a council member.
“Our mayor was opposed to the outdoor regulations, and he disagreed with the way it was passed because he had no vote,” Storrow said. “The board of commissioners passed it.”
Local governments also can ban smoking in public unenclosed areas and in government-owned vehicles. Violations are complaint-driven. Fines usually range from $25 to $50 if a citation is issued.
Several officials, including Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips, had questions about adopting board of health bans without consulting town and city officials.
“It’s about local control,” Mary Gillett, Guilford County tobacco prevention coordinator, said during the forum held in Jamestown. “Guilford County may make a different decision on sidewalks and parks.”
Gillett and Storrow urged health and local government officials to move carefully when considering outdoor bans.
“Pick up the phone and call,” Storrow said.  “You need to keep the information flowing.”
“We want everybody included in what we do,” Gillett said.

Smoking bans

Triad: Guilford County has a comprehensive ban in all public buildings in all cities and towns. Randolph and Davidson counties have bans in county buildings. There are no written regulations in Forsyth County. 
Source: Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch, N.C. Division of Public Health