J. Bradley Smith of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “Should I talk to the police?”
Smoking outside is not far enough to health officials in Mecklenburg County. They want smokers to quit their habit altogether on any government-owned grounds. They also want to ban chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes because, they say, they want to send a message to kids that smoking is not cool.
The legislature held public hearings five years ago as it debated a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in the state. The Tar Heel State, through its North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, considers smoking a health hazard. It also reports that secondhand smoke increases nonsmokers’ risks of developing lung cancer and heart disease, and can cause asthma in children or trigger asthma or heart attacks.
The Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law became effective on January 2, 2010. It requires enclosed areas of nearly all restaurants and bars in the state to be smoke free. Smoking is also banned in enclosed areas of hotels, motels and inns if food and drinks are served. Like many laws, The Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law does more than its title portends. It gives local governments the authority to place greater restrictions or prohibitions on smoking than are found in state law.
Local governments can restrict or prohibit smoking in “unenclosed areas owned, leased, or occupied by the local government,” in any passenger-carrying vehicles used by government, and in enclosed areas used by the public. Aside from a few narrow exceptions, the only places local governments cannot restrict or prohibit smoking are in people’s private cars and homes.
The effects The Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law are being felt, according to Cynthia Hallett, the Executive Director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. She said visits to North Carolina emergency rooms for heart attacks have dropped 21-percent since the law took effect. Thousands of people have avoided heart attacks because of the law, she said.
Mecklenburg County Health Director Marcus Plescia disagrees. Smoking is still causing rising rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes in Mecklenburg County, he said. So he wants Mecklenburg County to ban tobacco—meaning no smoking, no chewing tobacco and no electronic cigarettes—in parks. He said an all-out ban on tobacco would save lives and money.
Bob Szal of Charlotte E-Cigs questioned the proposed ban on electronic cigarettes. He said electronic cigarettes do not produce secondhand smoke. “It’s strictly all water vapors,” he said. Plescia conceded that the proposed ordinance does more than prevent secondhand smoke. But he said electronic cigarettes send the wrong message to kids, and banning tobacco altogether will send a message to kids that smoking is not cool.
Plescia added that enforcement of the proposed ordinance would involve “what we refer to as social enforcement.” Instances in which police “have to be called out” are rare, he said. If police are called out, violations of The Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law and ordinances enacted under its authority are not punishable as misdemeanors, meaning violators are only subject to fines.
Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a Charlotte based criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm servicing Charlotte and the surrounding area. If you or someone you know need legal assistance, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.
About the Author
Brad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.
Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.
In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.
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