Most area businesses comply with smoking law
Restaurants appear to be complying with the the new law banning smoking,
though Watauga County already had a head start on the change.
Four months into North Carolina's smoke-free restaurants and bars law, the Appalachian District Health Department has received only four complaints against specific restaurants and bars for follow-up and investigation.
"The small number of complaints confirms our predictions that businesses in the Appalachian district are, for the most part, fully complying with the new law," said Danny Staley, health director for the Appalachian District Health Department. "We appreciate their cooperation."
The law, which went into effect on Jan. 2, requires all bars and restaurants in the state to be smoke free. There are limited exceptions for cigar bars and nonprofit private clubs, such as patriotic clubs and some country clubs. Lodging establishments must also restrict smoking and may reserve no more than 20 percent of their rooms for smoking.
Teri VanDyke, with the Northwestern Tobacco Prevention Coalition, said Watauga was prepared for the law because nearly 80 percent of local restaurants had voluntarily established "No Smoking" policies in the past couple of years.
"We're very happy we've had so few complaints, particularly in Watauga County," she said. "We had 80 percent of our restaurants smoke-free already. The playing field is leveled now. It's not like they would lose business if they didn't allow smoking."
VanDyke also noted the four complaints were spread across the three-county district, and that complaints did not necessarily mean a violation had occurred. The complaints are made online or through telephone reports and then investigated by the local health department.
In addition to allowing smoking, patrons can report businesses for not following the law's requirements of posting no smoking signs.
"We will be following up with the businesses named in the complaints," Staley said. "Since this is a new law for everyone to get used to, we will provide education and assistance to these businesses, and do all we can to help them comply. Some establishments may not even realize the new law applies to them. We have education materials to share, and even free no smoking signs and coasters."
VanDyke said there were efforts under way to expand indoor smoking bans, similar to Boone's new law that effectively bans smoking in most public places.
"We're still working on prevention and cessation," VanDyke said. "Not all public places and worksites are smoke free, so that's still on the table."
A report of the complaints are posted each Tuesday on http://www.smokefree.nc.gov. Businesses and residents can also download information at this website, including fact sheets, frequently asked questions and answers and no smoking signs.