Tobacco Town Readies for State’s Toughest Smoking Ban
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) _ This tobacco town now has the state’s toughest ban on smoking, thanks to a pregnant woman who grew tired of having smoke blown in her face at a neighborhood grocery store.
″People don’t have the right to pump poison in me,″ said attorney Pete Clary, who voted for the controversial referendum, which passed by only 173 votes out of nearly 30,000 cast in Tuesday’s election.
While Greensboro may not be on the scale of nearby Winston-Salem or Durham in terms of tobacco production, it is still a tobacco stronghold. Lorillard Inc., which makes Newport, Kent and True cigarettes, is one of the city’s major employers with 2,300 workers in this town of nearly 200,000 people.
″We don’t feel like it’s going to stop here,″ said Earl Jaggers, a union leader at the Lorillard plant. ″These people (anti-smoking proponents) are going to move on to other cities and states.″
The city council could enact the ordinance within two weeks, putting smoking bans in elevators and large retail stores, and no-smoking sections in most restaurants.
Otherwise, if both sides agree, the referendum would go into effect Jan. 1, to give the restaurants and other public places time to prepare.
The ordinance, the toughest in any North Carolina city, requires restaurants seating 50 or more to set aside at least 25 percent of their seats for non-smokers.
″It seems like a painful pill to swallow until everything gets worked out,″ said David Hudgins, spokesman for the group which pushed the referendum.
″We’re not saying, ‘Don’t smoke,’ ″ he said Friday. ″We’re saying, ’Don’t expect me to have to breathe your smoke.‴
Lori Faley is credited with starting the referendum after she could do nothing about shoppers smoking in the check-out line at her neighborhood supermarket.
Mrs. Faley, who has since moved to Wisconsin, did not return phone calls Friday.
″She backed off from being in the forefront after she received some threats and comments,″ Hudgins explained. ″I’ve received some threats, too.
″It took someone with courage to speak out,″ Hudgins said.
Prior to the vote, she told a local newspaper she was frustrated with trying to get businesses and restaurants to impose voluntary restrictions.
″I tried that almost a year and a half ago when I went to grocery stores and asked them to (impose their own bans),″ she said. ″They just kind of looked at me funny.
″I asked some restaurants, and they said, ’We can’t enforce it because there’s no ordinance, so why don’t you get an ordinance,″ Mrs. Faley said.
So Mrs. Faley and others formed GASP - for Greensboro to Alleviate Smoking Pollution. Volunteers collected 7,300 signatures calling for the referendum.
The penalty for lighting up in a designated non-smoking area is $25 for each offense. No penalties will be imposed in the first year, however.
″There’s so many families for which tobacco is their livelihood,″ said Donnie Prago, the owner of the restaurant ″Donnie’s.″ ″What we need is a generation or two in which the kids don’t go into tobacco.″
With 14,000 tobacco farmers, the Tar Heel state produces about two-thirds of the nation’s flue-cured tobacco, which is valued at $900 million annually. Flue-cured tobacco is used to make cigarettes, and North Carolina’s cigarette makers produce 56 percent of all domestic brands.
Before Tuesday’s vote, an organization calling itself ″Greensboro Citizens for Fairness″ mailed out 55,000 brochures to residents asking them to vote against the ordinance.
The group was funded by Lorillard, RJR Nabisco in Winston-Salem and other cigarette manufactures, according to RJR spokeswoman Betsy Annese.
Lorillard vice president Alexander Spears became the chief spokesman for the group fighting the ban. Opponents do not plan to challenge the results of the vote, Spears said.
″I still believe a voluntary approach is the better one,″ Spears said. ″I believe restaurant owners need to have more flexibility than the ordinance mandates.″
The referendum also will help anti-smoking campaigns elsewhere, he said.
″I am sure they will try to use this as a political plum and a reason for other communities to follow suit and that sort of thing,″ he said.
Spears said he had spent most of Wednesday trying to calm irate employees who felt betrayed by voters in a city where the tobacco company has always worked hard to build a reputation as a good neighbor.
″There’s a feeling that the community was not supportive of them as individuals,″ Spears said. ″Generally, there’s a great feeling of disappointment in the community, particularly in those segments of the community where the referendum was so overwhelmingly voted for.″