The North Carolina Senate is currently reviewing a bill that bans smoking in public places. The bill was passed April 2 by the state House of Representatives after undergoing last-minute revisions April 1 that added exceptions for certain bars, which has caused mixed reactions among local restaurant owners and managers.

The bill aims to protect employees and citizens from the effects of secondhand smoke. It requires managers and owners of businesses and public locations where smoking is prohibited to put up "No Smoking" signs. The proposal also mandates that all indoor ashtrays and other smoking receptacles be removed and smokers be directed to extinguish any tobacco product. If, however, the individual continues to smoke after an oral or written notice, the person may be fined $50.

The exemption from the regulations applies to bars that do not allow minors and make at least 60 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales.

"We're not telling individuals that they cannot smoke," said Democratic State Rep. Larry Hall. "We're simply supporting the distinctions of where they should and should not smoke, which provides protection for those who choose not to smoke and suffer the negative health consequences-in particular, children, infants, and those who suffer from respiratory conditions."

If the bill passes, the enforcement will be overseen by local authorities. Conviction will have no consequence other than payment of the penalty and a person found responsible for a violation might not be assessed court costs. Furthermore, administrative penalties against managers or owners who fail to comply with the bill will only be enforced by a local health director.

But restaurants fear that the new ban will cut down on business, which is a larger threat now in tough economic times.

"This puts me in a difficult situation in a time where there are over 1,400 bankruptcies," said Gene Devine, Trinity '75 and owner of Devine's Restaurant and Sports. "This is a time where everyone is struggling to survive."

Devine, however, said he would not oppose the bill if all businesses were subject to the same regulations, he said.

"I don't want to be at a disadvantage to other restaurants. They should level the playing field. If the intent is to protect people from secondhand smoke, they should protect everyone," he said.

According to the Office of the Surgeon General, the workplace is a major source of secondhand smoke for adults and its exposure has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and lung cancer among adult smokers. Scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The only way to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace is to make it smoke-free. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings does not eliminate exposure, according to the OSG Web site.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that by June 1, 2006, 14 states had implemented laws that made private workplaces smoke-free. It is a concern for restaurant employees because they are less likely than other workers to be protected by smoke-free workplace policies. Only 43 percent of the U.S. population works under 100-percent smoke-free workplace policies, according to the CDC Web site.

Officials from Metro 8 Steakhouse and Dain's Place on Ninth Street said they viewed the bill positively.

"I smoked for years and then quit," said Kelli McLaughlin, operations director for Metro 8. "I was a bartender in Atlantic City for 10 years and worked a long day and then had to go home feeling and smelling like an ashtray, having a smoker's cough without having smoked anything. It isn't inconvenient to just go outside. It's better for everyone all around. Smoking belongs outside."

McLaughlin said that she finds the exemption provision for bars that do not allow minors strange, because those locations often see the most smokers. If the bill's intent is to protect employees and citizens from secondhand smoke, overage bars should be at the forefront of regulation, she added.

The CDC reports that restaurants and bar revenues in New York City increased by 8.7 percent between April 2003 and January 2004 after the city implemented its smoke-free law. Employment increased by approximately 2,800 seasonally adjusted jobs from March to December 2003.

"When this happened in Atlantic City, everyone said the same thing-that business would go down," McLaughlin said. "But it wasn't affected and its not going to be affected here."

Not all bars allow smoking, like Dain's Place. John Jackson, bar manager of Charlie's Pub and Grille, said he applauds Dain's Place for its smoke-free policy and added that the bill would not affect Charlie's because it becomes a 21-and-over bar after 7 p.m. and has a separate section and patio for smoking.

Students like senior Dina Graves and junior Kana Hatakeyama, neither of whom smoke, said they feel it is a good idea to have limitations on public smoking.

Some other students said they did not favor the bill.

"It's social engineering", said junior Dave Mlaver, who is a smoker. "Smokers have an extra bad image and legislators are making it worse. Besides, it is outside the bounds of the government power. They're even encouraging taxes on cigarettes so that the government can pay for things."

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said because the bill is still working its way through the legislative process and is not yet signed into law, he cannot yet comment on the issue. He added that when the bill becomes law, Duke will respond accordingly.