During the April meeting of Macon County’s Board of Commissioners, commissioners unanimously approved a county-wide smoking ban at all government owned facilities which are designated for recreational use. All county recreational parks, including the Greenway will now be smoke free.
The ordinance, which bans the use of all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco will go into effect 90 days from the day it was passed by commissioners, marking July 9 as the first official day the ban will be effective.
The 90 day period will allow the public to be informed of the new ordinance and will give the Health Department adequate time to post signs and pass out notifications of the ban.
Commissioner Ron Haven said that he had debated about the ordinance since the March meeting but decided that although he believes in freewill, a smoking ban would be the best decision for the young people in the community. “I do not use any tobacco products, but I know that those who do spend a lot of money on it,” said Haven. “Although I believe everyone should have the right and freedom to smoke if they choose, I have to vote for this ban in order to protect the children of Macon County.”
According to Jim Bruckner, Director of the Macon County Health Department, the new ordinance is intended to prevent children from being exposed to smoking. “We want to work toward teaching kids that it is the social norm not to smoke,” said Bruckner. “The less exposure they have to it, the less likely they are to smoke.”
Commissioner Ronnie Beale noted that he believes the new ordinance will not only teach children the importance of not smoking, but that children will also use it as a tool to educate their parents about the harms of tobacco use.
During their March meeting, board members heard from Macon County students, Zee Keezer and Kristy Sheldon, about banning smoking at recreational parks in Macon County. Although board members seem poised to pass an ordinance banning smoking at county parks, they decided to hold off on taking a vote so county attorney Chester Jones can review the language of the ordinance and ensure it is not too vague.
Dawn Wilde Burgess, the community health promotion supervisor at Macon County Public Health, brought the ordinance before the board in March and has continued to advocate for the local smoking ban. Burgess presented board members with three letters of support from the Macon County Public Health Department, Macon County Parks and Recreation, and the Highlands Board of Commissioners to encourage Macon County to pass the ordinance.
Burgess spoke on behalf of TRU, Tobacco Reality Unfiltered, a North Carolina health and wellness initiative that aims to end smoking among the state’s youth.
“In talking about parks, we realize we are talking about outdoor air. If someone is smoking, this also effects non-smokers. In addition to smoke being a health risk there is also a danger to children, ingesting cigarette butts or spit tobacco, or the issue of litter. Even more importantly is the message we are sending to our children. No one wants children to smoke, so we need to set good examples for them about using tobacco products,” said Burgess.
The state General Assembly passed a smoke free law in 2009 that banned smoking in all public bars and restaurants in North Carolina. If an establishment wants to accommodate smokers, they must provide an outside area for smokers to use. The law took effect on January 2, 2010.
State legislators were pressed to pass the law after research indicated that secondhand smoke has been proven to cause cancer, heart disease, and asthma attacks in both smokers and nonsmokers. The law sought to eliminate this problem for non-smoking citizens.
Moreover, the 2010 law that banned smoking in restaurants and bars enables local governments to strengthen their ordinances against tobacco use, according to Burgess. She noted that the new ordinance would be consistent with the policy of tobacco free schools and hospitals, public facilities that already adhere to smoking bans.
Since the March meeting, Southwestern Community College has agreed to ban smoking on their Jackson and Macon campuses.
Burgess and the county’s public health department pushed the issue, and their organization is equipped with a $12,000 grant they must spend by May 31, or the money reverts back to the state. Burgess wants to use the grant to support their initiative to ban smoking at parks within the county’s jurisdiction, and most of the money would be used for signage purposes.
The ordinance calls for up to a $50 fine for citizens who violate the ordinance. “I want what is best for our children,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “I don’t think we need some sort of smoke patrol going around and enforcing the ordinance.”
County Attorney Chester Jones noted that after contacting other counties with similar ordinance, he said that there had been very few, if none at all, reports of blatant violation of the ordinance. “Most of the time if the ordinance was violated, it was because of ignorance of the ban,” said Jones. “After a warning, I was informed that most everyone adheres to it.”
“Eighty percent of the population does not use tobacco products and the 20 percent that do, we perceive that if there was a sign, the majority would adhere to that,” said Burgess during the March meeting. “Signage is the key. We perceive that this is going to be enforced like any other policy of the county.”