As mentioned recently in a New Raleigh 2009 review article, the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars will go into effect this Saturday, January 2nd. The statewide legislation will prohibit individuals from lighting up in most establishments, with exceptions being made for private clubs, country clubs, and cigar bars. Essentially, if a business sells food or drink for pay, and is required to meet state health and sanitation codes, then smoking will be prohibited on the premises. The topic has been heavily debated, but there is no doubt that as of this weekend, it will be illegal to take a puff in many places where smoking was previously allowed in designated areas.
According to the law, smoking will no longer be allowed in “enclosed areas of restaurants and bars” and explicit guidelines are provided to distinguish which establishments are exempt. Outdoor patios and dining areas may still allow smoking in some instances; the regulation considers an area as “enclosed” if it has a roof and at least three walls or side coverings. Hotels and motels that do not sell food or drink are not affected by the ruling, though those that are may still designate up to 20% of their rooms as smoking rooms.
Some local business owners have already begun displaying no smoking signs, which is another requirement of the law for all affected restaurants, bars, and lodging facilities. The NC General Assembly cites formal findings regarding the health threats of secondhand smoke as the impetus for this new legislation.
Hookah bars remain a gray area, though the ban specifically states that they are exempt if they are not a restaurant, bar, or lodging facility, and do not sell food or drink. However, many local hookah bars also sell beverages and light snacks, meaning they would be required to follow health regulations and are thereby not exempt from the ban. A recent WRAL article notes that some hookah lounge proprietors intend to fight back against the ruling:
Tegegne Wondafrash, owner of the Harrar Hookah Cafe, 2109 Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh, said he plans to keep selling tobacco after the law takes effect. He questions why the law should apply to his business.
“Exclusively, this place is a tobacco place. People are coming here to smoke tobacco only. So we should be exempt,” he said.
Wondafrash said he has spoken with some other hookah bar owners and they plan to appeal if they get fined.
Establishments will receive two formal warnings before fines are imposed, which may be up to $200 a day. Individuals face fines of $50 for smoking in non-smoking facilities.
The North Carolina Division of Health and Human Services has posted some FAQs online to provide more information for those who have questions about the smoking ban. The ban officially begins at 12:00 a.m. on January 2, 2010, so if your New Year’s resolution is to quit smoking, you’re in luck.