Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Next on the agenda: workplace smoking ban

The House chamber of the state Capitol -- where legislators met from the 19th century until the early 1960s -- sounded more like an old-timey political rally at midday Tuesday when Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. There were standing ovations, high-flown rhetoric and enthusiastic introductions as Democratic and Republican legislators watched the formal signing in to law of the state's first ban on smoking -- and thus second-hand smoke -- in public places.

True, it already has been unlawful to smoke in university and community college buildings as well as nursing homes and state government buildings. But this ban on smoking is the first to apply to places where generations of smokers went regularly to light up and enjoy themselves.

Perdue, who as lieutenant governor and chair of the state Health and Wellness Commission pushed for anti-smoking programs that would trim the state's costly overall bill to pay for the ill effects of smoke, signed the bill under the watchful gaze of perhaps the nation's most famous tobacco grower. On the wall at the southern end of the chamber is the portrait of George Washington -- recently relit by Capitol curators to make it easier to see in the sometimes-dim chamber.

Standing with Perdue were a couple of dozen legislators, including primary bills sponsors Rep. Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, and Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland. Also nearby was former State Health Director Leah Devlin of Raleigh, who began pushing for no-smoking rules when she was head of the Wake County Health Department many years ago. Perdue gave her credit for convincing Perdue that the state must do more to protect its citizens from smoking and breathing smoke from others.

It's remarkable to older observers that North Carolina has come so far. In a state that, as Perdue put it, "was built on the backbone of tobacco," the state has moved slowly but steadily each year or so to protect its workers, its students, its children, its aging and now its public restaurant and bar customers from secondhand smoke.

It's worth remembering that until the election of Gov. Bob Scott, who died earlier this year, North Carolina did not even tax tobacco. Now, barely two generations later, it limits where people can smoke. And while Holliman's and Purcell's bill did not prohibit smoking in private workplaces other than restaurants and bars, the handwriting is on the wall. That time is coming. It won't be this session, or even next, but it's coming.


keeping-it-real said...

Well the sooner we eradicate this killer weed and introduce a great plant like hemp, we will all be better off.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to see this happen. I thought it would never pass in NC. I wish my parents were here to see this, but they both died of smoking-related illnesses themselves. Kudos to the governor for signing this bill into law! No more smelling like an ashtray after leaving a restaurant or bar! Sweet nonsmoking revenge for putting up with smelly cigarettes and rude smokers my entire life.

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