Smoking Ban Now in Effect
Moore County restaurant and bar patrons snuffed out their cigarettes for the last time Friday because of a new statewide smoking ban.
The law, which took effect Saturday, prohibits smoking in most restaurants and bars -- aside from private clubs, "cigar bars" and designated smoking guest rooms of lodging establishments.
A couple of smokers at Mac's Breakfast Anytime in Southern Pines were fuming over the ban Thursday -- less than 48 hours before it started.
"It's disappointing that a tobacco state would clamp down on us and put this rule in place," said Cathy Dixon, who was sitting in her usual corner booth.
Dixon said she has been smoking since age 12 and has no plans to quit. She usually smokes two packs a day, and had smoked three cigarettes since sitting down for breakfast.
She said she finds smoking "relaxing and enjoyable," and even though she likes going to out to eat, she will spend more time at home now that the ban is in place. She hopes that restaurants will open "cigar bars" to accommodate smokers.
Donna Strother was also upset. She said people have a choice to stay away from smoking establishments if they want to.
"That's ridiculous," she said. "We're supposed to still be living in a democracy. Don't make the whole country stop smoking just because you don't want to be in that environment."
Though local restaurant and bar owners have no choice but to comply, they're still wary of the impact the ban could have on their businesses.
Dave Whitney owns the Mac's Breakfast Anytime chain. Five of his eight restaurants are in Moore County. He estimates 15 percent of his patrons smoke.
"There's a lot of mixed emotions on this," he said. "Of course, the 85 percent love the idea, but the 15 percent [who smoke] are very upset about it."
Whitney said he has heard some of his customers who smoke comment on feeling like "second-class citizens" for being forced to go outside to smoke. Others, though, are using the ban as an opportunity to quit smoking, he said.
From a business standpoint, Whitney said he remains concerned about the ban because he doesn't know how much it will impact his restaurants. While he and his staff have explained to smokers that the law is outside their control, some are taking their frustrations out on them, threatening not to come back.
"That could hurt us," he said, "especially in the economy we're in now, where you're fighting for every dime."
Whitney said preparing for the ban involves far more than just picking up ashtrays and putting up "no smoking" signs. He said he will spend $500 to $1,000 per location to replace ceiling tiles and clean walls and floors in the old smoking areas.
Doris Beamer, of Neville's, a Southern Pines bar, said she is also worried. She said she hears complaints from regulars "about every 10 minutes" but concedes that there's nothing they can do about it.
"Yeah, we're very concerned," she said. "We have a mixed bag [of customers], but we have enough of a crowd that gets off from work and enjoys having a beer and a cigarette."
State Rep. Jamie Boles, of Southern Pines, said he empathizes with the business owners. He opposed the legislation when it made its way through the legislature and still considers it an affront to property rights.
"A person should be able to operate their own business without the government telling them how," he said, adding that customers have the right to pick and choose where they want to spend their money and don't have to visit establishments that allow smoking.
Boles said he thinks the bars and restaurants can adapt to the law but feels the government has stripped another right away.
Smokers and proprietors could face fines if they don't comply. The law says a person who continues to smoke in a nonsmoking area after a warning may be fined up to $50. Business owners who ignore the ban could be hit with fines up to $200 for each infraction after two violations.
Local health departments are charged with enforcing the new law. Moore County Health Director Robert Wittmann said the ban will be enforced like any other law his department is responsible for handling.
"It's done through education and self-compliance," he said. "There will be a long period of education of the public. I think that will take care of itself and there will be no need for legal enforcement."
The county's environmental health director, Terry McNeill, said restaurant and bar owners have been informed about the new law during routine inspections. He said the Health Department will rely on business owners and customers to regulate themselves. He said he doesn't foresee widespread noncompliance becoming an issue.
"It's not going to be a big problem for Moore County," he said.
Wittmann said he hasn't heard any complaints about the law personally. Like Boles, he expected that businesses could adjust to the new regulations. He noted that many establishments have already gone smoke-free on their own.
As far as the utility of the law, he said: "Strictly from a public health standpoint, the less second-hand smoke people are breathing, the better."
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Newsroom intern Hannah Sharpe contributed to this story.
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