Friday, March 23, 2007

Tobacco still a burning issue in Raleigh

Tobacco still a burning issue in Raleigh

A couple items in the news this week drove home the point how much North Carolina has changed. One was sheer numbers: North Carolina added 800,000 residents since 2000 – some 300,000 in the Charlotte region. Mecklenburg and Wake are among the fastest-growing areas in the country, and it won’t be long before the state passes Ohio in population. Hard to believe.
Here’s another change that’s hard to absorb: the growing support in the N.C. General Assembly for a bill to ban smoking in public places including work places and restaurants. It reflects a decline of the tobacco lobby’s power in the 21st century.
It hasn’t passed yet, but it zipped through a House committee the other day on a more than 2-1 vote but won't be on the House floor for days while its sponsor tries to round up more support. Its primary sponsor is House majority leader Hugh Holliman, a Davidson County Democrat and former smoker who lost a sister to lung cancer. He has the support of 10 cosponsors and support from some Republicans as well as Democrats. State Health Director Leah Devlin backs the bill, and so does Rep. Alice Graham Underhill, D-Craven, whose father, the late N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham, was an ardent defender of all things tobacco.
But things change. Just 14 years ago, the tobacco lobby was still flexing its muscle in Raleigh. It persuaded the 1993 General Assembly to co-opt local control of smoking ordinances by restricting the ability of local governments to declare no-smoking areas after Oct. 15 of that year. It was an outrageous preemption of home rule and meant that many thousands of North Carolinians had to endure second-hand smoke in public places.
They still do, and that’s bad public policy. Dr. Devlin told reporters Thursday that second-hand smoke increases the chance of heart disease and lung cancer in those who must breathe it. There’s no safe level of second-hand smoke, she said. “It’s a very serious health hazard,” she added.
Things began to change sharply several years ago. When Gov. Mike Easley – born and reared in tobacco country and in a tobacco family – proposed hefty raises in cigarette taxes, it was one sign that the axis of the Earth had tilted. And when the General Assembly approved a two-step increase, the ground in bright-leaf country wobbled some more.
It will be interesting to watch how Holliman’s bill fares in the House, but it is clear that Big Tobacco no longer has the clout it once did in Raleigh.

12 comments:

Lynn Timon said...

Oh good grief. I and ALL of my friends/family are thrilled when a restaurant takes a stand against second hand smoke and becomes a non-smoking establishment. I will not frequent Applebees ever again because the entire place is really filled with second hand smoke. It makes me physically ill to be around it at all. I continue to hope that all eateries follow suit in the very near future. I wish the tobacco companies would fold and just go away! We'd all be so much healthier.

Anonymous said...

The Grassroots Membership of Americans for Prosperity strongly believes that private businesses have the right to make their own decisions on how to run their operations. The days and times they are open, the prices they charge for goods and services, dress standards and more. It is our conviction that free market competitive forces ultimately shape these business decisions and determine the viability of the enterprise. In this vein, Americans for Prosperity is opposed to the proposed smoking ban in North Carolina for private properties that provide access to the public as a part of their doing business.

Currently, any restaurant owner in North Carolina is free to operate a smoke-free establishment and many have elected to do so, based on feedback from their patrons and employees. A vast majority of restaurants provide accommodations for non-smokers. This is how it should be. Alternately, a smaller percentage of dining establishments have decided to allow smoking based on feedback from their customers and staff. This, too, is how it should be. Individuals then have a choice.

It is at the very least debatable whether occasional, voluntary exposure to second-hand smoke amounts to any significant health risk. Perhaps, even if second-hand smoke does cause a risk, it is just one of many risks that people in a free society choose to navigate on a daily basis. In our society people are free to choose to engage in highly risky behavior such as sky diving, rock climbing, swimming in the ocean or skiing down a mountain, all of which can expose one to significant, imminent health risks. No one in North Carolina is forced to eat at a restaurant, drink at a bar or work in an office that allows smoking. When significant numbers of people decline to patronize an establishment because of smoking, the business owner is likely to alter the policy to cater to the customer’s wishes. This is how it should be.

It is the view of Americans for Prosperity that as much as possible the rights of private property owners should be sacrosanct. Anytime the government tells a private property owner how they may or may not use their land, the value of that property is diminished, whether it is a business or private home.

Individuals who believe that a smoking ban will increase the health of our society should have faith in the free-market to accomplish the same goal in time and likely with a longer lasting effect. When the government mandates a smoking ban, it only serves to stigmatize adults who engage in a legal activity and does nothing to decrease the percentage of the population who smoke. Whereas, when consumers in the free market make the decision to patronize only non-smoking establishments, the greater societal effect is a natural change in the public conscience that will lead, in time, to a decrease in the number of individuals that smoke.

Those who want to force a ban on smoking in business establishments do not consider it to be the end of the discussion. They see it as just the first step in a long campaign. They have been successful in some states where adults are told they cannot smoke in their cars or in their own homes. If they are successful no North Carolina eateries, bars and private work places will be able to allow smoking. However, the decision to bar smoking will have been made by a few legislators and not the customers or owners of the business. A better solution is to have faith in the private market and let it sort this issue out. It has always worked in the past and will do so in the future, if it is allowed to do so by the government. .

The American freedoms associated with property ownership are under attack. Personal freedoms are being stripped away from Americans on a daily basis. The grassroots membership of Americans for Prosperity understands that in America people have a right to make choices, including choices that others might not agree with.

www.afpnc.org

DALLAS WOODHOUSE

Mr. Woodhouse is the Communications Director for Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina. A grassroots organization dedicated to free markets and limited government.

Dana said...

Americans for Prosperity are wrong when they say that a government smoking ban does nothing to decrease the percentage of the population who smoke. Dr. Lowell Dale of the Mayo Clinic spoke in Charlotte on March 14 for the American Cancer Society, and he shared that in the past most of the individuals who came to Mayo for smoking cessation assistance were concerned about their health. Now, Dr. Dale says, most who come in want to stop smoking or dipping because their workplace has gone tobacco free. These are individuals who know they need to quit, but are prompted to by a policy change that encourages them to do something they have not been motivated to accomplish on their own. Smokefree policies not only clear the air for children and other nonsmokers, but compel smokers to improve their own health behaviors.

a non-smoker who believes in property rights said...

Ah, the wonderful hypocrisy of the anti-smoking crowd... most of them aren't actually anti-smoking, because if they were, they'd be in favor of banning tobacco altogether. No, they don't want to ban tobacco, because then they'd lose all those WONDERFUL tax dollars! They want to have their cake (get the tax money) and eat it, too (tell the smokers to smoke somewhere else).

Either be in favor of banning smoking COMPLETELY, or shut up about it and just go places that are voluntarily smoke-free. You can't have it both ways.

Anonymous said...

to the above comment, correct me if i am wrong, but is it not a personal freedom to be able to live in a safe environment? Why should the health of one individual be negatively affected by the choices of another?

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