Published: Nov 21, 2012 02:02 PM
Modified: Nov 27, 2012 05:29 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Heading outside for a smoke break? Be careful where you light up after Jan. 1.
The Orange County commissioners voted 6-1 Tuesday to ban smoking in most public places.
The ban is aimed at reducing cigarette butt litter, discouraging young people from smoking, and reducing secondhand smoke, which can lead to cancer, heart disease and asthma attacks, health department spokeswoman Stacy Shelp said.
It broadens the scope of a 2010 state law that banned smoking in most bars, restaurants and lodging establishments.
Commissioner Earl McKee, a former tobacco farmer and smoker, said he supports additional public education but opposed the ban because of its effects on private businesses. Those open to the public, including lobbies and offices, could be charged for failing to enforce the law indoors. Multiple violations could generate fines of up to $200.
“I see this as a bit of government incursion, with the penalties,” he said.
Commissioner Barry Jacobs supported the ban but cautioned the board to recognize McKee’s point about government being too assertive.
Several people spoke in favor of the ban Tuesday.
Chapel Hill High School senior Brinklee Bailey showed the commissioners two gallon jars containing more than 6,000 cigarette butts collected on Franklin Street in 2010.
Smoking affects smokers but also everyone around them, she said.
“Innocent people lose their lives because of exposure to secondhand smoke,” she said.
Pharmacist Matthew Kelm, a member of the Orange County Board of Health, said most of the smokers on his staff quit smoking after Durham implemented its ban Aug. 1.
“All but one of my employees has either ceased smoking or is in a smoking-cessation program,” he said. “What’s more surprising to me is that some members of my team, this has become about wholesale lifestyle changes.”
The law will allow smokers to puff freely in private homes and cars, tobacco shops, designated smoking areas and private clubs. UNC has its own policy that prohibits smoking in state-owned buildings and vehicles and within 100 feet of university buildings.
The law also does not apply to smokeless products, such as electronic cigarettes, because there is not enough evidence that those products harm others, Shelp said.
“We’re really looking at this as an education and empowerment law,” Shelp said. “Part of enforcement will be empowering people to say something.”Publicity and enforcement
Health officials already are talking with police and sheriff’s officials about how to enforce the law, she said. Smokers will be warned during the first six months, but after July 1, they could face a $25 fine.
Pam Diggs, the county’s health promotions coordinator, said $38,000 is available through a Community Transformation grant to publicize the new law. The health department also is seeking other grants, she said. The final cost will be worked out in partnership with town and county leaders and public works officials, she said.
The county’s health board approved the ban Oct. 24 after hearing from more than 800 people, most of whom favored the ban. The biggest objection was to applying the ban to sidewalks.