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NC lawmakers approve smoking ban in bars, eateries

EMERY P. DALESIO
Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) ó North Carolina legislators approved a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars in the country’s top tobacco-growing state and Gov. Beverly Perdue has said she would sign it into law.

The state House voted 62-56 on Wednesday to approve changes adopted in the state Senate. More than 30 states have passed similar legislation.

Health advocates pushed the bill that was opposed by lawmakers from areas were tobacco-growing and cigarette factories are big employers.

Supporters noted a 2006 report by the U.S. Surgeon General that no amount of exposure to secondhand smoke could be considered safe, and that servers who worked in restaurants and bars where patrons smoked were forced to sacrifice their health for a paycheck. A counter argument was that adults who run businesses or patronize them should choose whether to spend time in smoke-filled rooms.

“This is about the freedom and rights to do on your property what you see fit,” said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett County, whose rural home county includes many tobacco growers. “As well-intended as this bill may be, it’s wrong. It’s wrong to take away freedom.”

The head of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association said the trade group supports the final version since it creates a level playing field for restaurants and bars.

“It is definitely a historic move,” said Betsy Vetter, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association’s North Carolina chapter. “We think this will protect a large portion of the population from secondhand smoke and that’s quite an accomplishment for public health.”

North Carolina, where for generations tobacco growers and cigarette company executives were a protected class, has come late to a national trend of increasingly limiting the places where smoking is allowed.

By the end of this year, 32 other states and the District of Columbia will have laws banning smoke from workplaces, restaurants, bars, or some combination. South Carolina is among a handful of other states that allow local anti-smoking ordinances.

The law would allow fines of up to $50 for smokers who keep puffing after being asked by an establishment’s managers to stop, but the law can only be enforced by a local health director and not police. Hospitality owners or managers could be fined up to $200 after being warned twice to enforce the smoking rules.

There are exceptions for nonprofit, private clubs like American Legion or Kiwanis halls and country clubs, and for cigar bars that generate at least a quarter of their revenue from selling cigars. The state’s motion picture and television industry won an exemption after worrying that an actor could be fined for smoking during a production. No more than 20 percent of rooms at hotels and motels may be set aside for smokers.

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