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Smoking ban divides N.C. officials

Brunswick County commissioners continue to wrestle with a proposal that would ban smoking on all county properties except parks, where designated smoking areas would be created.

Commissioners and Assistant County Manager Steve Stone say the measure is intended to help protect the health of employees. Commissioners' Chairman Bill Sue said a person's personal health decisions should be his or her own, but added that he believes health insurance rates are higher for the county staff's approximately 207 smokers.

While conflicted about the government taking that kind of power, Sue said that the public pays for 90 percent of the cost of employee health insurance. If there is a higher rate for smokers, he suggested, the public should not have to bear the cost.

A public hearing scheduled for May 17 will be the second for the proposed ordinance. The first draft of the ordinance would have banned all smoking on all county property, a stance Sue and other commissioners thought was too strict.

Sue said just one person spoke at the initial public hearing on the ordinance.

Stone said the rewritten ordinance changes the date it would become effective from Aug. 2 to Dec. 1 and allows for designated tobacco areas in parks. The use of any tobacco product would be banned elsewhere.

Stone said he personally is against allowing for county complex smoking areas in the ordinance because he doesn't think it's right to spendgovernment money to build gazebos where people would go to harm themselves.

There are separate penalties for employees and the general public who ignore the ordinance should it become law, Stone said.

Employees will be given one oral warning and then a series of written warnings before they could be fired. Stone said the county plans to offer employees help to stop smoking.

Non-employees caught smoking where they shouldn't will be given repeated verbal and written warnings. Should those not stop the person, Stone said, he or she would be fined $50 for each time they are caught smoking on county property. They will, though, not have to pay court costs or face an escalating fine for repeated offenses, Stone said.

Sue's not totally convinced that the issue is one where the government should get involved.

"There's not a law against somebody shooting themselves, is there?" he asked.