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Editorial: Milestone on Tobacco Road

The debate over the dangers of secondhand smoke ended some time ago for most people familiar with the medical research documenting increases in heart disease and lung cancer among nonsmokers exposed to cigarette smoke. Debate has continued to rage in the N.C. Legislature, however, as year after year, tobacco-friendly lawmakers turned back attempts to impose more restrictions on indoor smoking in public places.
That changed this week as legislators voted to ban smoking inside restaurants and bars. The ban fell short of what public-health advocates sought, a restriction extending to patrons and employees of almost any business establishment. But the legislation still marks a milestone in the country’s top tobacco-producing state, and it offers at least tacit acknowledgment of the studies indicating there’s no safe level for secondhand smoke, including a 2006 report from the surgeon general. If you’re around secondhand smoke ó either as a restaurant diner or an employee ó you’re exposed to toxic contaminants and carcinogens.
For years, some restaurants have tried to find a middle course by having nonsmoking sections segregated from smoking areas. It’s an imperfect system, with nonsmokers often exposed to the smell of cigarettes and occasional wafts of smoke that escape the ventilation system. Or on a busy day, they may have to choose between a lengthy wait for a nonsmoking table ó or seating in the smoking area.
A ban is the only way to ensure that nonsmoking restaurant and bar patrons can fully escape the fumes and the health threat. Bravo to state legislators for recognizing reality and finally taking this step.

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