Outdoor smoking bill rebuked by health advocates

May. 14, 2013 @ 08:30 PM

RALEIGH - Health advocates say a North Carolina Senate bill would repeal hundreds of local and community college rules restricting smoking outdoors.

The Senate Environment Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would prohibit local governments and community colleges from enacting smoking bans that are stricter than state law.

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson and the bill's lead sponsor, said he appreciates public health progress made in the state since it passed restrictions in 2010, but he thinks a line should be set at outdoor settings.

"I think if you're walking down the sidewalk, you ought to be able to consume a tobacco product," he said. "I think if you're in a park outdoors you ought to be able to consume a tobacco product."

But lawmakers from both parties expressed concerns about how the bill would overturn smoke-free campus laws and specially designated smoking areas.

Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, said she opposes the bill because many outdoor smoking laws passed by local governments protect families at events.

"It's going to really be inhibiting and dangerous to our families and children, and it is uncontroverted that second-hand smoke stunts their educational process," she said.

Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba, said community colleges in his district have told him their specially crafted rules outlawing smoking entirely or limiting it in outdoor settings came with wide support from campus groups.

"If they're happy with the way it is, what's the point of us changing it?" he said.

All but two of the state's 58 community colleges allow smoking only within designated areas, and 35 have enacted policies banning it entirely on their campuses, according to the North Carolina Alliance for Health. The group also found 249 local ordinances under threat.

"We have a great smoke-free law, but it doesn't say a word about outdoor spaces," said Pam Seamans, executive director of the group. "That will exclude and exempt that issue from being acted on at the local level."

North Carolina, the state perhaps most associated with the tobacco industry, has lagged behind others in passing smoking bans. But the state outlawed smoking in enclosed areas of almost all restaurants, bars and other businesses in 2010. The headquarters for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Inc. remain in North Carolina.

Despite concerns from lawmakers, the bill passed the committee with wide support on a voice vote. The bill now heads to a committee on state and local government.