11/05/09 — No smoking allowed -- Health Department prepares restaurants for new rules

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No smoking allowed -- Health Department prepares restaurants for new rules

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 5, 2009 1:46 PM

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From left, Russ Gordon, Jane Patton, Bob Patton, Jim Burrell, Maureen Burrell and Jim Gurganus enjoy breakfast at the Lantern Inn this morning. Starting Jan. 1, a new state law will forbid smoking in almost all restaurants and bars. Even convenience stores, if they provide any form of food service, fall under the ruling. The Lantern Inn already has instituted a no-smoking policy.

Come Jan. 1, House Bill 2, prohibiting smoking in designated public places, will go into effect.

The bill primarily targets restaurants and bars, with the local Health Department tasked with enforcing the restrictions.

Essentially, the new law forbids smoking in almost all restaurants and bars, excluding certain cigar bars, and is not allowed in some areas of lodging establishments such as hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and inns. Even convenience stores, if they provide any form of food service -- such as selling hot dogs -- fall under the ruling.

At the same time, smoking is permitted in private clubs, such as country clubs and private non-profit organizations, although they might establish voluntary policies prohibiting smoking.

A mass mailing was sent out in the spring to all establishments affected by the law, said Shane Smith, food and lodging program coordinator with the Environ-mental Health division.

It has raised a handful of questions, he said, mostly from bars.

"We haven't really had any complaints on the restaurant end," he said.

"We have a lot of bars that think they're private clubs but they're not a non-profit organization, so they do not meet it. ... Also, from the bar end, their right as an American to be able to have a smoke, that's the biggest complaint I have had so far, but only a few."

To comply with the new regulation, businesses will be required to post no-smoking signs in conspicuous locations, remove ashtrays and other smoking receptacles, and be prepared to direct violators to extinguish smoking materials.

Health Department staff anticipate visits to area businesses to make sure signs are prominently displayed.

"Other than that, it's pretty much going to be on a company-driven basis," he said.

Restaurant owners will likely have a designee responsible for enforcing the ruling, said Kevin Whitley, director of environmental health.

"They'll have to tell the person they cannot smoke and need to put the cigarette out," he said. "If they don't comply, someone would call the sheriff's department or police department. They could issue a $50 citation.

"That will not count as a misdemeanor or anything like it. It's just a $50 (fine)."

The Health Department's involvement would only occur if a complaint was filed. At that point, if two written warnings went unheeded, the health director has the authority to impose up to a $200 administrative penalty, Whitley said.

As the target date looms, health officials anticipate no major problems with the ruling, especially since it was announced well in advance.

"I think the biggest (issues) will be the private clubs," Smith said. "We hope it's going to be smooth but you can never tell."

"Hopefully, since this is a statewide law, not just a local law we're trying to enforce, there won't be too much resistance," Whitley added. "We're going to try to do some things to get the word out, so hopefully the public will know and it won't be a surprise."

In most cases, local restaurants have already switched to the no-smoking policy.

Chad De Rosa, general manager of Lantern Inn, said the business went smoke-free about six months ago. The policy was introduced gradually, he said.

"We posted signs on the doors," he explained. "First we just did it in the sunroom, they could only smoke in there. Eventually we just did away with all of it, and hung up signs indicating that."

There were mixed reviews at the outset, he admitted.

"We felt an initial hit when we first did it, it affected us a little bit," he said. "Some people were glad we stopped smoking, other people think it's nobody's choice but their own."

These days, the designated smoking areas are outside and customers "kind of designate their own way," De Rosa said. And until the bill passes, workers have opted to smoke in an area by the back exit.

"Once it passes," he added, "then everybody will go outside."

One of the last holdouts locally is Applebee's, which will maintain its smoking section until the state enforces the law Jan. 1.

"We have not gone to non-smoking here in Goldsboro," said Jenny Duncan, assistant manager, who previously worked at an affiliate in Greenville, which concentrated its smoking area to the restaurant's bar.

Staff at the Spence Avenue location decided to reduce the size of its smoking section in the interim, Ms. Duncan said.

"During lunchtime, it's directly at the bar and three tables in the bar area," she said. "At nighttime, we have a whole side dedicated as a smoking section."

With non-smoking regulations becoming the norm, most patrons anticipate that is already the case, Ms. Duncan said.

"We have a lot of people that come from out of town that are surprised they can still smoke in here," she said.

For the most part, the assistant manager said response has been favorable.

"I haven't heard anything negative," she said. "They're used to going other places that have already implemented it. I think a lot more people are taking it as a pleasant change."