The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set a 2020 target for restaurants, bars and workplaces to be smoke free. North Carolina’s own smoking ban in restaurants and bars is a step in that direction, but that step puts it out of step with the state’s southern neighbors.
The CDC notes in a new report on smoking that the number of states, including Washington, D.C., that enacted some sort of a ban on public smoking increased from zero in 2000 to 26 in 2010. These restrictions include bans on smoking in restaurants, bars and workplaces, or some combination of the three. But the CDC also notes that there is a strong regional disparity in the bans. No southern state has a smoke-free law for all three venues. Indeed, with the exception of North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, no southern state has any kind of smoking restrictions. The CDC says its national smoke-free target can be reached only if the South comes on board.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that second-hand smoke exposure results in an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths among non-smoking American adults each year.
Delaware was the first state to implement a comprehensive smoke-free law, passing the legislation in 2002. New York followed in 2003; Massachusetts in 2004. While most of the states implementing such laws did so through the legislative process, Arizona, Ohio, South Dakota and Washington enacted theirs through ballot measures, meaning there was sufficient public support.
That North Carolina has any kind of smoking ban is a small feat by itself. Tobacco, while not having the same financial and political clout it once did, still carries significant weight in the state. The debate on legislation banning smoking in bars and restaurants stirred controversy in the 2009 legislative session. But ultimately, there was sufficient political and public support for the ban. If North Carolina — still a large tobacco producer and home to cigarette companies Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI) in Winston-Salem and Lorillard (NYSE:LO) in Greensboro — can pass smoking restrictions, perhaps other southern states can do so, too. In that regard, North Carolina could be a leader for the region.
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