Smoking ban: 1 year later

Last year, residents in Catawba County could ring in 2010 at a bar, with a drink and a cigarette in hand.

This year, however, 2011 dawned in smoke-free restaurants and bars throughout Catawba County and North Carolina.

The state law banning smoking in bars and restaurants turned a year old this month, but debates about the law haven't gone cold in the 12 months since it was passed.

"I think you should be able to smoke in bars and restaurants," said 20-year-old Dakota Bryant, of Conover.

Bryant understands and respects nonsmokers' desire not to be around smoke from tobacco products, but that's what nonsmoking sections are for, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control says adverse health effects from smoking accounts for about 443,000 deaths each year in the United States, which means that one in five deaths are related to cigarette smoke.

That danger doesn't apply only to cigarette smokers. According to the CDC, there is no safe level of second-hand smoke exposure. People near second-hand smoke are exposed to many of the same toxins as smokers are when they light up a cigarette.

The ban became effective Jan. 2, 2010, causing many people and business owners to claim the new law sent their individual rights up in smoke.

"I think its tragic that our government is telling us what we can and can't do," said one area woman, who declined to be identified because she works in the tobacco industry.

Restaurant and bar owners also complained about the ban, expressing concerns that their sales could decrease as smokers stopped eating, drinking and lighting up at their establishments.

Louis Soto, manager of Dos Amigos restaurant in Conover, told The O-N-E in December 2009 that he wasn't worried about the smoking ban negatively impacting his restaurant's business.

One year later, he said the ban actually made his restaurant better. His employees don't have to spend hours at a time in the smoking section and be exposed to second-hand fumes.

Soto said smokers largely changed their smoking habits because they couldn't simply choose to smoke at another restaurant.

"(The ban) was everywhere," he said. "It didn't really affect us."

Catawba County government buildings became smoke-free Jan. 1, which was an extension of the existing 1990 policy requiring buildings to be tobacco-free.

All Catawba County buildings, campuses, facilities or vehicles leased or owned by the county are required to be smoke-free.

The decision was made after extensive discussion among the county's department heads, according to a Catawba County press release.

"Catawba County recognizes that having entirely smoke-free grounds is the only effective way to protect its employees and visitors from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke exposure," said Catawba County Public Health director Doug Urland. "As a government entity and large employer, Catawba County is on the forefront of promoting healthy behaviors."