HILLSBOROUGH - CORRECTION
: The original version of this story contained the incorrect date for the Orange County public forum. The forum is Oct. 24.
The Orange County Board of Health is taking public comments on a proposed countywide public smoking ban after receiving overwhelmingly positive comments on a preliminary survey.
The proposed ban would outlaw smoking on property owned by cities or the county, including sidewalks, bus stops, public transportation and parks, with violators subject to $25 fines. The proposed ban is nearly identical to one that went into effect in Durham County on Aug. 1.
Under North Carolina law, the county has no jurisdiction over state-owned property, so the UNC campus would be exempt. Unlike the statewide indoor smoking ban, the new ban would not apply to private property.
During October, you can tell the board what you think of the ban in four ways:
• an online survey ( surveymonkey.com/s/ocsfpp
• email to firstname.lastname@example.org,
• a voicemail message at 919-245-2480, or
• in person at the Board of Health’s Oct. 24 meeting in Hillsborough.
The Board of Health and the Orange County Board of Commissioners must approve the ban for it to take effect. If enacted, it would begin in January. For the first six months, no fines would be issued as signs are posted and individuals and business owners are educated on the new law.
“This is not intended in any way as a punitive rule,” Board of Health member Corey Davis said. “There’s overwhelming evidence that decreasing smoking rates and secondhand smoke benefits health, and we just see this rule as another tool for us to do that.”
The nonprofit organization Trust for America’s Health reported that nearly 20 percent of adults in North Carolina smoked in 2010, but for that same year only 13 percent of Orange County adults smoked, said Colleen Bridgers, director of the Orange County Health Department.
Bridgers supports the ban, pointing to a study that showed a 21 percent decrease in emergency room visits for heart attacks in North Carolina the year after the statewide indoor smoking ban began.
“The fewer people exposed to secondhand smoke, the healthier the population,” she said. “It’s been shown that as you reduce opportunities for smokers to smoke, they’re more likely to try to quit.”Calls coming daily
The Durham County Health Department has been receiving calls reporting public smoking daily since its ban took effect in August, director Gayle Harris said,
The health department has not issued any fines yet and instead sends a team of educators out to tell the smokers about the county’s smoking cessation programs. Anecdotally, residents have said some areas where smokers used to gather are now smoke-free, Harris said.
As part of a confidential online survey, Orange County elected officials, police representatives and other community figures were sent a link, which those officials then forwarded to others who also responded. Of the 87 survey respondents, 72 were non-smokers, 10 former smokers and four current smokers. Most respondents live in Hillsborough or Chapel Hill.
Every respondent supported banning smoking in government vehicles, with nearly all also supporting a ban in elevators, galleries, libraries and museums, child care facilities and public restrooms.
The biggest objection was to banning smoking on sidewalks, which 21 percent opposed.
“That seemed to us to be overwhelming support,” Davis said “No proposed rule or regulation has 100 percent support, ever, so we actually thought this showed a lot more support than a lot of proposed new rules.”
However, Ebony Riley, 20, of Carrboro, who has smoked for two years, opposes the sidewalk ban. She said she always asks people around her if smoking will bother them before she lights up.
“I think it’s bull,” she said. “Where else are we going to smoke? I can see hospitals and clinics, but this right here [on sidewalks], it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Riley is trying to quit smoking, but said the ban would have no effect on her quitting.
“That wouldn’t be the reason I would try to quit,” she said. “But, I am trying to quit.”