Restaurant owners deciding when to implement smoking ban

Local restaurant owners who have not yet gone smoke free say they have no choice but to follow a new state law banning smoking in all public restaurants and bars across the state, regardless of their personal opinion.

The bill introduced by State House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, to outlaw secondhand smoke was signed into law by Gov. Bev Perdue earlier this week and will take effect Jan. 2, 2010. The only exceptions to the new law are private clubs and bars, cigar bars and tobacco shops. Also, smoking will be allowed on outdoor patios of restaurants and bars.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Jen Hames, public health educator with the Davidson County Health Department.

She said her department is ready to help local restaurant owners make the move to a smoke-free environment now or whenever they decide to implement their plans to meet the deadline at the first of the year. She can be reached at 242-2354.

“The sooner they go smoke free the healthier it will be for their customers and employees,” she said. “It really is a health issue for employees, who are exposed for hours at a time.”

The health department, along with the Davidson Health Alliance, began working with local restaurants a couple of years ago to encourage implementing smoke-free dining, Hames said. The campaign has been pretty successful, even getting half a dozen barbecue restaurants to go smoke free, but Hames said there are still many restaurants that will have to make changes.

One of those is Jimmy’s Barbecue on N.C. Highway 8 South. Owner Terry Harvey said he has tried to straddle the fence to accommodate all his customers by making the smaller dining room as you enter the restaurant a nonsmoking section, as well as where everyone pays, and the larger dining room beyond it the smoking section. He estimated that 60 percent of his customers are smokers but added many people simply go to the smoking section when the smaller non-smoking section fills up, so it’s hard to tell.

Harvey said he understands health concerns, and he doesn’t allow people to smoke inside his own home, but he doesn’t like the government deciding such issues.

“I will comply with it, it’s the law,” Harvey said. “But it’s sort of the principle of the whole thing. I hate losing my right to have control of my business. I think it ought to be my choice, as the owner, to decide what I should and should not do with the restaurant.

“And with the economy like it is in this town, nobody can afford to lose customers.”

Harvey said he also has some concerns about the practicality of enforcing the smoking ban. There will be fines for individuals who smoke as well as owners or managers who allow smoking in their establishment.

“If someone goes in the bathroom and lights up, am I supposed to be a policeman?” he said.

Terry said he will need more information before he tries to implement a smoke-free plan.

“It might be two months from now or a week before the deadline,” he said of when he would start enforcing the law. “We’re just not quite sure yet.”

Juan Montoya, owner of Don Juan’s Mexican Restaurant on Talbert Boulevard, said he has kept a smoking section around the restaurant’s bar to keep some regular, longtime customers happy. But he does ban smoking before 2 p.m. in all sections of the restaurant so he can accommodate the lunch crowd quicker. He said it didn’t make sense to have people waiting for a table when the smoking section was half empty at lunch.

“I’m glad,” he said of passage of the new law. “People can’t be blaming me. We’re going to go by the law. There’s really not a lot of choice.

“It’s not going to hurt my business. I think it’s better for everybody.”

He estimated 90 percent of his customers are nonsmokers, and 99 percent of his employees are nonsmokers.

“My employees don’t like to work in the smoking section,” he noted. “Some of them get headaches.”

Montoya also noted that the Don Juan’s in Kernersville in which he is a partner has been smoke free from the day it opened two years ago.

“We were actually the first smoke-free restaurant in Kernersville,” he said.

Montoya said he’s not sure when he will go smoke free in Lexington. He said he will see what other restaurants do. And he noted that smokers can still be seated on the outside patio in front of the restaurant.

Boyd Dunn at Speedy’s Barbecue on Winston Road said he and his brother and business partner, Roy Dunn, haven’t talked yet about when they will go smoke free.

“I’m sure smokers won’t like it, but we’ll do whatever we have to do,” Dunn said. “With the economy being what it is, we tried to keep everybody happy. Our restaurant was set up where we had the options of doing both, so it wasn’t a problem. That’s why we left it, since they were separated enough, and you didn’t have to go through one area to get to the other.

“We have more nonsmoking than smoking, but we liked to leave that to the customer.”

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