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Wednesday, 16 December 2009 12:59

State snuffs out smoking in bars and restaurants

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Promptly after ringing in the new year, North Carolina will usher in a smoking ban in restaurant and bars on Jan. 2.

While most restaurants are moseying on with the status quo for now, Pasquale’s Italian Restaurant in Waynesville is taking the smoking ban quite seriously.

The restaurant will not only shut down its smoking section but also its doors — from Dec. 21 to Jan 13 anyway.

Deb Matthews, owner of Pasquale’s, said she’s temporarily closing shop to change carpets, repaint the interior and do whatever else is necessary to rid the restaurant of the cigarette smell that’s embedded itself inside over the years.

“We thought it wouldn’t be nice for the customer to walk in and have it still smell like smoke,” said Matthews.

Instead of hurting business, Matthews said the ban might actually bring more in. Some non-smokers prefer to frequent restaurants that do not allow any smoking at all.

Matthews said the smoking ban would be a healthier policy for both employees and customers.

While Matthews’ patrons who smoke can’t argue with that fact, they diverge on whether the ban is a good thing.

“We’re a tobacco state,” said Trish Lavender, a regular at Pasquale’s. “We grow it, we should be able to smoke it.”

“I think it’s great,” said Kathy McCracken, another Pasquale’s customer who smokes. “I don’t smoke in my house or truck... I can’t stand the smell.”

In fact, the smell of smoke seems to be more offensive to customers and restaurant workers than the health risks involved with secondhand smoke.

“It’s not even people’s health, it’s the smell,” said Lisa Bessent, who owns O’Malleys on Main in Waynesville. “It’s all over your hair and your clothes. If you don’t smoke, it’s not a very pleasant smell.”

O’Malleys allows smoking upstairs only after 9 p.m. so that lunch crowds aren’t driven away by the smoke.

Though smoking is allowed at all times in the basement, Bessent said her customers are accustomed to going outside to smoke.

“Nobody’s going to want to smoke and go outside when it’s midnight and cold, but they will,” said Bessent.

Customers can’t have their coffee with cigarettes at Panacea Coffeehouse, Café & Roastery in Waynesville, but they are allowed to take a drag on the café’s deck outside.

Like Bessent, the café’s owner Brian Pierce acknowledges the health risks associated with smoking. But he decided to prohibit smoking inside Panacea when it opened seven years ago to create a “nicer environment.”

“It’s just the smell and the feel,” said Pierce. “That’s all it is to me.”

Yet Pierce said the new smoking ban might not be appropriate.

“I think it’s borderline infringing on the rights of business owners,” said Pierce. “I feel as a patron of a business, it’s your decision.”

As it turns out, Panacea’s formula is perfectly in line with the new law, which prohibits smoking inside of bars and restaurants but allows it outside.

Hotels, motels and inns cannot designate more than 20 percent of their guest rooms as smoking rooms, according to the law.

The only exceptions to the smoking bans are nonprofit private clubs, country clubs, and of course, cigar bars.

Heading the campaign to educate restaurant and bar owners in Haywood County is Traci Clark, a program coordinator of the Hi-Top ASSIST Consortium, which supports tobacco use education.

Clark is distributing coasters that promote the smoke-free law on one side and on the other, a quit line to help smokers give up their cigarettes for good.

Along with a group called Healthy Haywood, Clark said she has been working on promoting smoke-free dining for years. Certain businesses in Haywood County have participated in smoke-free dining days, while those that already prohibit smoking received free publicity in newspaper ads, courtesy of Healthy Haywood.

According to Clark, most North Carolinians will obey and respect the new law, which would charge individuals up to $50 for violating the law. Restaurants and bars would be charged $200 if they repeatedly allow smoking inside their businesses.

“It’s just a matter of getting used to a new way of thinking,” said Clark. “This is another way to be considerate to another person’s health, especially for the wait staff who are exposed for long periods of time.”

Clark said most of the restaurant owners she has spoken with are happy with the new law.

According to Marty Lowe, owner of Bogart’s Restaurant in Waynesville, the ban will eliminate some long-standing issues in restaurants that allow smoking.

Lowe pointed out that sometimes non-smokers have to walk through a smoking section to grab a drink at the bar or visit the restroom.

“Certain nights, smoking is very heavy, and it can drift into the non-smoking section,” said Lowe.

For Lowe, complaining about the new ban is akin to complaining about taxes. Now that the ban is a done deal, Lowe is not interested in debating all the merits and downfalls.

“There are points to be made on either side,” said Lowe. “Let’s get on with it.”

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