08/05/10 — Officials: Smoking ban not an issue anymore

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Officials: Smoking ban not an issue anymore

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 5, 2010 2:14 PM

Six months into the state's new smoke-free restaurant and bars law, which went into effect on Jan. 2, officials are reporting a dwindling number of complaints.

The adjustment has been seemingly without problem, said Kevin Whitley, director of the Health Department's Environmental Health section.

"We really haven't had that many (complaints), a handful of bars at the beginning when the law took effect because there was some confusion on which places were exempt," he said this week. "In the last couple of months, we haven't had any."

For the most part, reactions to the policy have been favorable, Whitley said.

"People have been understanding," he said. "But the bar owners weren't happy. But they knew we were just having to enforce it, we didn't enact it."

Any complaints received were typically forwarded to Whitley, whose primary action was to notify the business owners and to make them aware of the law. He also provided additional information where needed.

"After that, we only issued a couple informal warnings," he said.

North Carolina is the first state in the tobacco-growing South to make restaurants and bars smoke-free.

The law was complaint-driven, state officials said, referring to complaints long investigated by health departments.

According to the report, since House Bill 2 went into effect the number of complaints have steadily dropped -- from 537 in January to 39 during June. The numbers are particularly impressive considering the law covers more than 24,000 businesses across the state.

As for smokers themselves, Whitley said there hasn't been much backlash.

"At the beginning ... those folks probably weren't happy," he said. "But the news media covered it well, so everybody was prepared and the state also prepared (Health Department) staff so that everything went pretty smoothly."