Terri Buckner: Stamp out butts: Put up more signs

August 16, 2013 

Terri Buckner


Secondhand smoke, the smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, contains more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are known to create serious, sometimes deadly, medical problems for non-smokers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to secondhand smoke means an increased rate of heart disease and lung cancer for adults; greater likelihood of asthma and respiratory infections like bronchitis for children; and a higher rate of Sudden Infant Death for babies.

In 2010, a group of Orange County high school students began advocating for a local ban on smoking in public places. Their efforts were finally adopted into public policy by the Board of County Commissioners in 2012. This local rule, known as the Smoke Free Public Places, was authorized by the N.C. General Assembly’s adoption of House Bill 2 in 2010 which banned smoking in bars and restaurants throughout North Carolina and gave local boards of health the authority to adopt more restrictive policies.

Under this new local rule, smoking is banned from all public, indoor areas (including government-owned vehicles) and all county or municipally owned, maintained, or controlled outdoor areas such as bus stops, parks, and sidewalks. If a restaurant has outdoor seating on a public sidewalk, smoking is now banned in those areas too. A $25 fine can be imposed on violators, but the focus of the county’s plan is on education rather than penalty.

Since January 2013, the Board of Health has worked to create an educational outreach program that includes signs, news articles and radio spots. They are also working with local businesses and nonprofits. But one of their most innovative approaches is identifying areas around the county where there are multiple cigarette butts and sending a response team out to inform the smokers of the new rule and provide them with information and resources if they wish to quit smoking.

Participation by the municipalities has ranged from gung-ho, get-out-the-message adoption by Carrboro to a more measured response by Chapel Hill. Through a CDC grant, Orange County was able to purchase signs for their own areas of control and to offer that same benefit to the municipalities. Orange County, Hillsborough, and Carrboro all selected signs that say No Smoking in English and Spanish along with the universally recognized graphic of a cigarette with a slash through it for non-readers. Chapel Hill preferred signs that were more “artistically interesting.” Those signs say Breathe, with no reference to smoking.

Carrboro and Hillsborough have placed signs throughout their towns at bus stops, parks, and municipally-owned facilities. Chapel Hill ordered just nine signs and placed them all on Franklin Street, with no current plan for expansion.

As those of us who work or study on campus have learned since the university ban was implemented in outdoor areas, this new rule doesn’t mean you should expect local police to enforce the rule and/or impose the fine. But the rule does give you a basis for asking smokers to extinguish their cigarettes. In my experience, those encounters depend on how you make your request. If you are too abrupt in making the request, you’re likely to get an angry response or be ignored. But if you explain the new policy and the possible fine, most of the smokers I’ve approached have appreciated the information and, even though they may be frustrated by the rule, they comply.

Having more signs present and understandable would make these encounters much easier. Being able to point to a sign that is clear and directive gives greater credence to your request, and better yet may prevent the behavior so the encounters become unnecessary. At a minimum, I’d really like to see a sign at every bus stop.

Addendum: Last week, George Draper, owner of Players on East Franklin Street, became the first Chapel Hill business owner to request No Smoking signs from the Orange County Board of Health.

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