Sydney Short, a Duke University Medical Center cardiologist who works at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, has gotten between 300 and 400 people who work at the hospital to sign his petition for all restaurants to go smoke-free. He’ll ask the eight-man council to consider a citywide ordinance.
“... It will eventually pass, if it doesn’t pass now, it’s a matter of when,” Short said. “Many cities within the next few years nationwide will go smoke-free. Tobacco is no longer king in North Carolina.”
Short said the 30 members of the hospital board of trustees and the SRMC foundation board have signed the petition. Many of them, he said, will show their support by attending Monday’s meeting.
Some restaurant owners will also be attending.
“I’ve talked to a lot of the restaurant owners. They said they’ve been wanting it for years,” Short said.
Short said that research he’s done shows business actually increases in restaurants that ban smoking.
“Most restaurant owners don’t know how much business they’re losing,” Short said.
Kenneth Rust, owner of seven local McDonald’s, learned that lesson.
Rust said the McDonald’s in Pembroke opened smoke-free as an experiment in March 2005 and the results were so good, his other six McDonald’s restaurants quit smoking in January 2006.
“I will tell you we do have some folks that are smokers that are no longer with us,” Rust said. “But the customers we have gained have more than made up for the ones we have lost. Mostly, it’s families with little children who prefer a healthier environment.”
Short said that environment affects many people.
“To me, ridding cigarette smoke in a restaurant is a right to the customers, but also to the employees,” he said. “It’s an unsafe work environment ... secondary smoke is clearly a health problem.”
To those who say that government should not be the hand that holds the cigarettes down, Short says this: “It’s the government’s responsibility to protect constituents and employees from health hazards.”
But Kevin Wells, general manager of Texas Steakhouse & Saloon of Fayetteville Road, doesn’t see how business would increase.
“We have a huge wait on Friday and Saturday nights for the smoking section,” Wells said. “I would lose a lot of business.”
Wells said that other stores in the company only allow smoking in the bar.
“The bar is not large enough to put booths or tables there,” he said. “Smokers will sit at non-smoking tables if they have to, but non-smokers won’t sit at smoking tables.”
But some smokers don’t mix nicotine with nutrition.
“I smoke, but I don’t like to be confined to where smoke is coming up in my face,” said Carolyn Wilkerson as she took her smoke break at City Hall recently.
Wilkerson said she never eats in the smoking section of restaurants.
Darryl Kennedy works at The Village Station.
“I smoke, but I don’t in any restaurant I eat in whether it’s allowed or not,” Kennedy said. “Reasoning — not to inconvenience the other person. Smoking is a personal choice. I can’t impose my choice on someone else.”
Kennedy said he believes second-hand smoke is just as bad as first-hand. He said he would sign the petition.
“If the need of the many outweighs the pleasure of the few — yes, the law should pass,” he said.
There are two red “No Smoking” signs in downtown’s Courtyard Grill, but manager Shelia Barnes said it’s only because the place isn’t big enough.
“Smoking out (in the seating area) is like smoking (in the cooking area) — all the smoke flies back here,” Barnes said.
Barnes, who has been smoking for 20 years, said she hopes the petition doesn’t change any laws.
“If I’m at an Outback ... yeh, I’ll smoke,” she said. “It’s North Carolina. It’s the tobacco state.”
But Rust believes the crop has been dethroned.
“Ten years ago, prior to the tobacco settlement, when tobacco was king, no I do not think it would have been possible,” Rust said. “Now, tobacco is nowhere near the economic force it was in our economy. Yes, I actually do think it would be possible (to get the smoke-free law passed).”
The General Assembly has considered smoking bans for restaurants, but a law has never been passed.