Local beach smoking ban could end under Senate bill

by Michelle Saxton and Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wrightsville Beach’s smoking ban could be snuffed out by a Senate bill that proposes to stop local governments and community colleges from regulating outdoor smoking in ways that are more restrictive than state law.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved a version of Senate Bill 703 on Tuesday, May 14, and the bill was sent to the Senate State and Local Government Committee. If it becomes law, it would be effective in October.

Primary sponsor Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton, R-Johnston, Nash and Wilson, said he objected to localities and other institutions banning people from consuming a legal product outdoors, and he argued for uniformity among local smoking ordinances.

“If you are on a windy beach in southeastern North Carolina you ought to be able to consume a tobacco product,” Newton added during an online audio feed of the committee meeting. 

“I can understand municipalities wanting to have a high fine for littering. I think that’s reasonable. But I just find it ridiculous that we can’t be outdoors and have somewhere for people who choose to smoke to smoke.”

How the bill would affect municipalities’ abilities to restrict smoking by designating a smoking area for big outdoor family events was among concerns raised by Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren and Wilson, who also voiced concern over possible effects of second-hand smoke among children attending such events.

“We’ve got so many children now with asthma and other kinds of conditions that you can’t even bring your family to an outdoor event sponsored by the city or town and feel safe with your children,” Bryant said.

“Are there any studies, any scientific evidence, that outside smoke has caused any harm to anyone?” questioned Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank and Perquimans.

Community colleges have criticized the bill, said Sen. Austin Allran, R-Alexander and Catawba, who questioned what would happen to those schools with policies that forbid smoking outside doors if the bill passes.

“Will it change that so that they can’t regulate people congregating at the entrances smoking cigarettes?” Allran said.

Newton said he might be open to finding a compromise with that specific issue.

“What I’m really trying to address is the blanket ban and the turning into a criminal people who are using a legal product,” Newton said. 

The bill needs more work, said Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, who added he was unopposed to people smoking.

“If they want to kill themselves then they have the right to do that,” Ford said. “I struggle …with this open concept because there’s nothing worse than going to the beach and being with your child, playing in the sand, and then coming up with a handful of cigarette butts.”

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