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Board of health considers smoking ban

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

The Orange County Board of Health is considering proposing a rule that would further limit places where smoking is allowed in Orange County.

While smoking is already prohibited in bars and restaurants in North Carolina in accordance with a law that went into effect January 2010, this new regulation, if passed, would prohibit smoking on government grounds, at recreation facilities, in retail stores and in government vehicles and buildings.

“As the second healthiest county in North Carolina, we really feel like we need to be leading by example,” said Stacy Shelp, public-information officer for the Orange County Health Department.

“Orange County prides itself … as a place where people want to come and visit. To have an environment where people can breathe easier … lends itself to be a more healthy and pleasant environment for all people who live and visit here,” Shelp said.

The board of health decided to reevaluate the county’s smoking ordinance and began drafting a smoking ban as part of its 2012-14 strategic plan to increase the health of residents of Orange County.

Although the rule is still being drafted and discussed by the board, board members have already reached out to collect feedback from local elected officials and community health leaders through a survey.

After receiving the survey results, the board met on Wednesday, after The Citizen went to press, to discuss the results and adjust the draft if necessary before opening up an online survey today (Thursday) for feedback.

“The folks I have talked to have largely been supportive,” Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger said. “Most people understand the health hazards of second-hand smoke.”

In creating a draft ordinance, the county has been working closely with Durham County, which in August put into effect a smoking ban similar to what the board is considering.

“When you look at cities like Durham, which was really tobacco country USA, they went smoke-free before us,” Shelp said.

Working with Durham and the Durham County health department enables the Orange County health department to share ideas and receive helpful information regarding lessons learned in putting the law into action, Shelp said.

“We are learning from their implementation and enforcement, and they have been immensely supportive and helpful,” Bridger said.

While figuring out how to enforce the law if implemented could pose some problems, Bridger and Shelp both said they weren’t as worried about that as they were about awareness and education.

“We said all along this isn’t really about enforcement, this is more about empowerment,” Bridger said.

Shelp noted that law-enforcement officers would have the authority to give someone smoking in a prohibited area a $25 fine.

“Do I expect to see a lot of police enforcement associated with this? No,” Bridger said, adding that she hopes just having the law in place will make people think twice before smoking, which would have a positive impact not just on those breathing second-hand smoke but on the smokers themselves.

“The recognition is there that smoking is bad for you and inhaling second-hand smoke is just as bad for you,” Bridger said. “Maybe this will encourage more people to try one more time to quit smoking, and maybe this will be the time it sticks.”

The board of health will hold a public hearing on the smoking ban on Oct. 24. If the board decides to move forward with it, the ban would be presented to the Orange County Board of Commissioners in November.

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