Published: Oct 23, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 23, 2012 06:46 PM
HILLSBOROUGH - The Orange County Board of Health will vote on a countywide smoking ban tonight, following a forum where you can tell the board what you think of the ban.
The ordinance would ban smoking on any city- and county-owned property, including sidewalks, parks, bus stops and cars. Unlike the statewide indoor smoking ban, this law would not apply to any private property.
The forum is at 7 p.m. in the conference room at the Orange County Library, 137 W. Margaret Lane in Hillsborough. If the Board of Health approves the ordinance, it would have to be approved by the Orange County Board of Commissioners to go into effect.
More than 750 people sent the board their comments during the public survey period. The results of that survey will be made public at tonight’s forum. In a previous survey of community leaders, the majority saw no downsides to the ban. The few who objected were concerned about enforceability, as well as overreach of government.
The Board of Health’s main goal is to improve public health by helping people quit smoking, board Chairman Tony Whitaker said.
Bans on public smoking are a national trend, said Sally Herndon, head of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch of the N.C. Department of Health at an educational forum about the ban held last Wednesday. Bans grew more common following a 2006 U.S. surgeon general’s report that found any level of secondhand smoke carries a health risk.
Tobacco use is the second most common cause of preventable death in North Carolina, she added.
“Even a brief exposure can trigger a heart attack,” Herndon told the community leaders at the meeting. “There’s no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”
If passed, the ban would take effect Jan. 1. After a six-month education period, violators would receive a $25 citation, similar to a parking ticket. Public smoking would not be treated as a criminal offense. Because the law is directed at prevention of problems caused by secondhand smoke, it does not apply to chewing tobacco or electronic cigarettes.
The intent is not to fine smokers, Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger, but to educate them on how to quit. Behind concerns about secondhand smoke, the board hopes the law encourages existing smokers to consider quitting by making it more difficult for them to find places to smoke.
“We’re hoping to create a culture change where it is expected to not see people smoking in parks or on sidewalks,” Bridger said. “But that takes time.”
The board and community leaders hope if the ban goes into effect that the public helps educate smokers on the ban. Herndon mentioned that in bans like the one on the UNC campus, people had success handing cards to smokers that mentioned the smoking ban on one side and had resources for smoking cessation programs on the other side. These are useful for people who are worried about the prospect of confronting people who are smoking.
County employees who currently go outside to smoke on county-owned property would no longer be able to if the ban goes into effect.
“I know of a county employee who has tried many times to quit and can’t,” said Lori Taft, director of the Orange County Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation. “Is he going to lose his job?”
Herndon said she was available to the county and towns to advise on smoking cessation benefits that can be included in insurance policies which would allow county and city workers to have more options for quitting. She noted the range of nicotine replacement products available on the market, for those employees who could not refrain from smoking during the workday.