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Last day to puff away in public

By Shelley Smithssmith@salisburypost.com
Like an after-dinner mint, an after-dinner cigarette is the perfect companion to a full belly for most smokers who dine out. Come Saturday, though, smokers will no longer be able to smoke in restaurants, bars or hotels that prepare and serve food and drink.
The consensus among most smokers is that the new state law is taking away individuals’ rights.
Shirley Lowery, a regular for more than 20 years of Wink’s Bar-B-Que, believes the law is smoker discrimination.
“I don’t approve of it,” Lowery said. “If you pay your taxes and you do everything they (the government) tell you to do, you should still have a little bit of freedom. I should have some right to say and do what I want.”
Lowery’s husband, Leonard, used to smoke, and although he has quit smoking, agrees with his wife. “They have a right to smoke,” he said. “I smoked for 20 years and decided not to anymore. It’s a bad smell for me.”
Leonard Lowery said that with the high price of cigarettes, everyone should quit. “People are paying almost $5 for a pack of Newports,” he said. “With the current economy, people should be saving money, not wasting it.
“But everyone has rights, even smokers,” he added.
Garland and Brenda Graham have eaten at Wink’s Bar-B-Que for “years and years and years,” said Brenda, whose husband likes to sit in the smoking section with the regulars, even though he and his wife don’t smoke.
On the other hand, Garland thinks smokers could use some courtesy and wait until after their meal to go outside to smoke a cigarette.
“In my opinion, I think anybody that smokes can do without a cigarette for an hour while they eat,” she said. “I think it’s (the smoking ban) a good idea.”
Gene Wilson, who has been a loyal Richard’s Bar B-Q customer for more than 25 years, likes to have a cigarette after his meal.
“It’s just another right the government’s taking away from us,” said Wilson, who has been a smoker for more than 50 years.
Wilson said he’s always thinking of the other customers, and he makes sure to ask them if the smoke is bothersome.
Wayne Cline, also a long-time Richard’s customer, said he’s looking forward to the ban. In 1992, Cline coordinated and proposed a smoking ban for the city and county. He addressed county commissioners and the Salisbury City Council.
Cline said he’s looking forward to not smelling like smoke after a meal.
“I can sit down and enjoy my food without smelling like cigarette smoke,” Cline said. “My clothes won’t smell when I leave, and my throat won’t close up while I’m trying to eat.
“I never thought I’d see this ban in North Carolina in my lifetime.”
Steve Joslin of the Rowan County Health Department helped start the Smoke Free Rowan initiative for restaurants and businesses. He said education on the health hazards of secondhand smoke is key to getting people on board to become smoke free.
“It’s ‘in’ now to be smoke free,” Joslin said. “No amount of secondhand smoke is safe, and we have encouraged businesses to become smoke free.”
Joslin said he and others with the Smoke Free Rowan initiative found that sales at smoke-free restaurants and bars actually increased.
“If you (restaurants and businesses) go ahead and initiate, you’re not going to have a negative impact, and that’s what we’ve seen here in Rowan County,” Joslin said.
Joslin said when Smoke Free Rowan began, 20 percent of businesses and restaurants were smoke free, and before Jan. 2, 44 percent became smoke free.
“That’s a big deal to us,” Joslin said. “Our main goal was to get these restaurants and businesses to voluntarily adopt a smoke-free policy, and to raise community awareness about secondhand smoke.
“There is no safe level of secondhand smoke.”
Joslin said Smoke Free Rowan members tell him they are glad they went smoke free, even the ones that weren’t sure about it.
“That kind of support, we wouldn’t have gotten it even a year ago,” Joslin said. “It all goes back to the community.
“I’m always asking people how they feel about it, and people are anxious about the new law.
“The key is educating people. … People who sit on the fence will realize (how nice it is). I think the community had an awakening,” Joslin said. “This is a big deal, historically. I really appreciate that Governor Perdue signed the bill, and I’m anxious to see how it works out.”
Richard Monroe, owner of Richard’s Bar B-Q, said he’s ready for Jan. 2.
“Like everyone else in the restaurant business, I’ll just be glad when it’s over with,” Monroe said. “Make it fair for everyone and be done with it.”
The Farmhouse Restaurant was the first in Rowan County to voluntarily go smoke free, and owner Dan Schindelholz is happy he did.
“Our customers give us hugs and thank us all the time,” said Schindelholz. He said he lost a few customers from the switch but gained more. “A lot of people wouldn’t come in in their Sunday clothes because they didn’t want to smell like smoke.
“Everyone wanted to sit on the nonsmoking side, and now that the entire restaurant is nonsmoking, it’s made a lot of things easier in the long run. It’s a lot easier on the waitresses, too.”
Restaurants and bars, such as Benchwarmers and The Boat and Ski Club, are taking advantage of outside decking that will feature heaters for smokers.
“We’re going to accommodate our smokers as much as possible,” Benchwarmers owner Todd Littleton said.
“We have had a very positive response,” said Lynn Aldridge of environmental health for the Rowan County Health Department. “The vast majority of food service facilities have been in favor of going in that direction.”
Aldridge sees a challenge with some places, such as the cigar bar in downtown Salisbury, Havana Knights.
Aldridge said that since Havana Knights is connected to other businesses, and the smoke could drift over, they may have to make changes.
“They’ll probably fight it,” he said. “There are so many different scenarios, and it’s just going to be a learning experience for all of us. But it’s such a big step in the right direction.”
Others aren’t so sure
“They say peanut butter can give you cancer, but, my God, I’m not giving up my peanut butter,” Shirley Lowery said. “We don’t have a right to say anything or do anything. It’s just not right.”

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