Jan. 2 marked the third anniversary of the Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law. For three years Robeson County residents have enjoyed restaurants and bars serving up what you wanted without the health hazards of tobacco smoke. This law not only protects workers and customers from the known health hazards of second-hand smoke, it improved indoor air quality, prevented heart attacks and saved health-care dollars. I know for smokers it is an inconvenience to go outdoors, but for the non-smokers who were inconvenienced — mildly putting it — for years, it has been a welcome relief. I still recall a few years ago being in one of our restaurants and hearing a northern traveler remark that they felt they had been thrown back in time when they witnessed smoking in the building.
Still, there will be issues in 2013. While Robeson has had no reported violations, several places in other counties have challenged the law — all courts have held the law and the health department’s enforcement legal. The latest issue is the beaches deciding to go smoke-free in New Hanover. At issue is whether the towns can enact rules on the beach since sand restoration has made them state maintained. The legislature will have several bills related to this, which opens up the whole issue again. It would be an embarrassment to have the law slide backwards, but many people in North Carolina do not care about that or the health of its residents. However, polls have shown more than 70 percent support the law and the State Restaurant and Bar Association endorses uniform protection.
Obviously the children are one of the favorite targets of the industry. In this state, 4.2 percent of middle school children smoke cigarettes — down from 15 percent in 1999 — and 15.5 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes — down from 31.6 percent in 1999. Reasons for the decline are nearly 70 percent of all students had heard anti-smoking commercials and the increase in prices, partially due to taxes. The old adage is for every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices, consumption declines 3 to 5 percent. This is particularly true for those with the least money — kids will see a decline of 6 to 7 percent if the increase occurs. For this reason, many tobacco opponents advocate for a dollar tax increase to help lower smoking rates and for that money to be centered on prevention efforts.
I find it amazing that 30 percent of middle school and 50 percent of high school smokers bought their last pack of cigarettes at a store — about a quarter gave someone else the money to buy them. Store operators are failing to do their job by looking at proper identification. There are not a whole lot of 12- and 13-year-olds who look 18.
Finally, if interested in quitting smoking, you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for assistance. There is a limited supply of free nicotine patches, gum and lozenges available for the uninsured adult tobacco user (many insurances pay for this service).
Robeson County continues to live out the thought that: “Social position, economic status, culture, and environment are critical determinants of who is born healthy, who grows up healthy, who sustains health throughout their life span, who survives disease and who maintains a good quality of life after diagnosis and treatment.” (National Cancer Institute) Maybe in 2013, you can help change that.