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Health board seeks broader smoking ban

Board of Health members Graham Fields and Jim Crafton peruse a report as Health Director Steve Smith makes a point during a meeting on Aug. 12. Board of Health members Graham Fields and Jim Crafton peruse a report as Health Director Steve Smith makes a point during a meeting on Aug. 12.

The Henderson County Board of Health is recommending a tough no-smoking rule that would ban outdoor smoking on county grounds.

The Board of Health last week unanimously adopted the new anti-smoking resolution and made plans to present the tougher rules to the public and work for endorsement by the Board of Commissioners by the end of the year.
"A resolution is just a resolution," said board member Kris Peters, chief strategy officer for Pardee Hospital. "I think what we do with it is really important."
A committee made up of Board of Health chairman Pete Richards; Graham Fields, assistant to the president of Park Ridge Health; Dr. Phillip Sellers, who just retired from his Health Board seat; Peters and Public Health Director Steve Smith is working on refining the resolution and trying to win support for the outdoor smoking ban on county grounds.
County Commissioner Larry Young, a member of the Board of Health, was unable to make last week's meeting.
"He has stipulated that he is supportive of county grounds being smoke-free," Smith said.
The Board of Health proposal would do away with designated smoking areas the Board of Commissioners authorized last February after library patrons complained about enduring a gauntlet of second-hand smoke at the library doors.

Applies to county cars, parks

 

Board members said last week that their push for the no-smoking rule arises from the board's role as an advocate for good health. The resolution board members endorsed says that second-hand smoke has been proven to cause cancer, heart disease and asthma attacks, that there is no risk-free level of exposure to it and that second-hand smoke concentrations in cars are shown to be much greater than other enclosed spaces, even with the windows open and a fan on.
The ban would apply to county-owned or leased buildings, county vehicles and county-owned or leased grounds including parks and open spaces.
Counties have had greater authority to regulate smoking since 2010, when the state Legislature passed an anti-smoking law that applied to some public spaces and granted local government bodies the power to enact rules for buildings, grounds and vehicles "that more restrictive than state law."
The action by the Board of Commissioners earlier this year arose from a request by the county public library, not the Board of Health. Library officials said they had received complaints from patrons who said they had to endure a cloud of second-hand smoke at the library's doorway. The Board of Commissioners banned smoking outside entrances but in a compromise agreed to create segregated smoking areas.
"What caused the Board of Health to take notice was they set up a smoking area on the Board of Health premises," said Dr. Richards, a dentist. "It kind of sends a two-edge sword" — banning smoking on the one hand and inviting it on the other. "As a board of health, we know what smoking does. It's a killer etc. etc., and we really felt the need to take a public stand in terms of property owned by the county."
The Board of Health settled on a health rule rather than a countywide ordinance because through a rule the county can ban smoking at county property in cities. Many of the most-visited public buildings the county owns are in the city of Hendersonville. The rule would take effect only if the Board of Commissioners adopt it.
"If there's a county property in Laurel Park it will be included in there and municipalities don't have to vote on it," Richards said. "We can adopt a rule and it's our rule and the county commissioners can approve it."

Public forums proposed

Board of Health members point to statistics showing that just 19.2 percent of adults in Henderson County smoke and to surveys showing that 82 percent agree that government property should be smoke-free and 66 percent agree parks and trails should be.
"I think our board's purpose, once this is brought to the commissioners, is to begin to hold some open forums," he said.
Smith, the public health director who started here in May, recommended that.
"You don't have to hold a public hearing but I can tell you that any county that's taken a significant policy step like this has held a public hearing," he said.
The policy would also for the first time ban smoking in county vehicles, although it would not apply to private vehicles in a county parking lot.
"I don't know that there is a specific policy on smoking in county vehicles today," Smith said. "There may be informal policies by departments. I think one of the opportunities here is to clarify that."
County Manager Steve Wyatt said in an interview that county policy already bans smoking in county vehicles.
"Let's be frank, it's the honor system," he said. "We don't have smoking police." The issue is one of health — for smoking and second-hand smoke reasons — and because lingering smoke odor cuts the trade-in value of vehicles the county has bought.
"The board had a fairly comprehensive discussion of this just a few months ago," he said. "Do we want to revisit that every six months. As far as I'm concerned it was settled but it would be up to the board to resurrect that discussion."
Smith said board members and the committee advancing the policy understand the need to satisfy the elected commissioners.
"We've got to get their buy-in. I think there's some concerns that will definitely need to be addressed," he said, among them "how we're going to support" employees who smoke with smoking cessation help. "There's actually a lot of resources in the county through the Wellness Clinic and the Health Department. I'll be the first to tell, change is tough."
Fields, the Park Ridge representative, said he saw the no-smoking rule as part of the advocacy that the Partnership for Health, a multi-agency effort, should carry out.
Board of Health member Terry Hicks, the most vocal advocate of tougher no-smoking laws, wanted the board's policy to go further. He favored a resolution like one the board adopted in 2007 endorsing a state law "making all North Carolina worksites and public places 100 percent smoke-free."
"I think it's the job of the board to promote public health," Hicks said. "Somebody's got to be out there and I'm willing to take the heat. I'm too old to worry about it. If they don't agree with me they're wrong."
Other board members took the view that such a board smoking ban "was like trying to eat the whole elephant at one time," in Richards' phrase. "Our feeling is let's get this thing open, at least take a small bite of the elephant," he said. "It's not a ban on smoking, it's just where you can do it, and the initial move is county property and county parking lots."