01/03/10 — Public places go smoke free

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Public places go smoke free

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 3, 2010 1:50 AM

Johnny Williams took one last drag off a non-filtered cigarette before making his way to the Wilber's Barbecue front door late Wednesday morning.

"It's not so bad, but it's going to take some getting use to," the 65-year-old said, reaching down to put out his Camel. "It's more of an inconvenience than anything."

But the law he was preparing for -- one he knew would render all restaurants and bars smoke-free as of Saturday -- still doesn't sit well with the 40 year smoker.

After all, he picked up the habit while defending such freedoms, he said.

"Having a smoke was something you did to keep your mind off where you were, what you were seeing," he said. "So for those of us who served our country (in Vietnam), telling us what to do is a hard one to swallow."

But other Wayne County residents said they are looking forward to life without smoking sections in local eateries.

And Karen Holloman said the "freedom argument" is flawed.

"I hear all these people talking about freedom, like smoking in a public place is some kind of inherent right," the mother of four said. "What about my kids' rights to not be around secondhand smoke? Should we create an unhealthy environment for them for the sake of people who could just as easily step outside as light up at their table?"

The new law requires affected businesses -- restaurants and bars and other venues that serve food, including recreational facilities, convenience stores, hotel common areas and more -- to post no-smoking signs, remove ashtrays and ask smokers to step outside to smoke. Businesses that do not comply will be hit with fines of up to $200 per day.

At least one county resident, though, thinks $200 is a small price to pay.

Adam Little, who said he hangs out in the bar at Chili's and other restaurants, argues that the law will hurt business at the places he used to fancy.

"I know plenty of people who come to the bar to watch a football game or basketball game who won't show up anymore," he said. "They can make their own food and drinks at home for cheaper, but being able to kick back and light a cigarette with your friends was a draw.

"Now they'll just do it at home. I guarantee it," he added. "Why would I waste my time coming to the bar for the game when I have to get up every 15 minutes to go outside in the cold?"

Enforcement of the law will be complaint-driven -- the Health Department will investigate businesses based on those complaints.

To report a business in violation, call the Health Department or visit www.smokefree.nc.gov