Cover Story: NC smoking ban

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

BELMONT, NC (WBTV) - The North Carolina smoking ban takes effect Janurary 2nd.  That means no more smoking in bars or restaurants.  We're the 26th state in the country to have a smoking ban.

On Saturday, when North Carolina's law takes effect about 60% of the American population will be smoke free.

Sherry Bledsoe now counts down the days having to clean up after smokers.  After Saturday, like cigarettes her ash trays go up in smoke.

"I'm looking forward to it.. I am," she says.

She had been thinking about doing away with cigarettes in her establishment "Bentley's Bar and Grill" in downtown Belmont for some time, but never pulled the trigger.

"It would have been suicide for me to go non-smoking. But now that the law's going into effect.. it's same for everyone," says Bledsoe.

Smoking's last bastion, the neighborhood bar, is going smoke free in North Carolina.

The landmark law passed the state legislature this summer in what many thought would never happen in tobacco country.

The law bans smoking in restaurants and bars, even convenience stores and bowling alleys if they sell food.

Smoking is allowed in cigar bars some country clubs and non-profit bars such as patriotic clubs.

Bars and restaurants if they have an outdoor patio like Sherry Bledsoe has can get around the ban.

State liquor laws however prevent you from taking the booze outside the business unless it's to an outdoor seating area.

Patrons who illegally smoke after a business tells them to stop are subject to a $50 fine.  Businesses who flaunt the smoking ban can be fined up to $200 a day.

Smokers like Danny Kuss understandably aren't happy about it.  Some see it as another reach by Big Brother.

"The intrusion thing is what it is," he says.  "What else are they going to ban next that I can't do? America is the land of the free.. thing is fading fast."

Bar owners in some states that have already outlawed smoking say they'd rather pay the fines than lose the business from people who want to light up.  They keep a "smoke jug" in view for donations to offset fines.

That's not going to happen here at "Bentley's Bar and Grill" according to Sherry Bledsoe.  She herself a smoker, but has a most unique perspective on the whole smoking debate.

"From a business standpoint I'm looking forward to it. Personally I don't like it.. but business wise it's a good thing."  She says her eyes are bloodshot at the end of the night from working in the bar with all the smoke.

As far as losing business, studies have shown it just doesn't happen.  In fact, many business find they pick up traffic when they go non-smoking.

This law goes into effect on January 2nd.  That is a little different.  New state laws usually go into effect on New Year's Day, but since January 1st is a big day for celebrations, lawmakers opted to go with January 2nd instead of January 1st.