County buildings smoke-free Feb. 1

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

December 31, 2013

A smoke-free ordinance will be implemented one month from now, approximately a year after the prospect of having rules to prohibit smoking in county buildings was proposed to the Sampson Board of Commissioners during a February 2013 planning session.

The board adopted the smoke-free ordinance for all buildings, but not the grounds or all vehicles — permitting smoking only in designated areas on the grounds and individually-assigned county vehicles, notably sheriff’s patrol cars.

Despite the time it took to mull the ordinance and ultimately approve it, commissioners credited it approval as a stride made toward the health of its citizens and employees, while also not brushing aside the rich tobacco-growing heritage on which Sampson was built.

The ordinance is a done deal, but there still remains some details to iron out, such as where those special smoking areas will be located and the Health Department’s educating of employees not only on the placement of those areas but the specifics of the ordinance.

The passed ordinance reads, in part, that “smoking and the use of tobacco products are prohibited in any building owned, leased, or occupied by the county; (and) on county grounds surrounding county buildings, with the exception that smoking and the use of tobacco products is permissible on county grounds in areas designated by the county manager.”

Those areas will be designated in the coming weeks with the input of employees.

“The smoking ordinance has an implementation date of Feb. 1,” assistant manager Susan Holder said. “The education will start with dissemination of the signed ordinance to each department, and each department will ensure that their specific employees are aware of the ordinance provisions. Any department which does not have a ‘designated’ smoking area will submit their request for such to the county manager.”

A draft ordinance to prohibit smoking and the use of tobacco products in county grounds and vehicles was first discussed at the board’s planning session in February 2013. Health director Wanda Robinson brought the issue to the board, preaching its benefits and noting it was a mere formality.

A smoke-free survey, conducted for county government buildings in January 2013, showed that of 18 agencies that responded, 17 reported to be smoke-free. Robinson said the only thing keeping Sampson from a smoke-free designation was a formal document and encouraged the board to adopt one.

State law took effect in 2010 expanding local government authority to regulate smoking in government buildings, grounds and vehicles. And as of early 2013, there were 81 counties in North Carolina that had, through a written regulation, 100 percent smoke-free or tobacco-free government buildings. Sampson was not one of them, prompting Robinson to recommend the county make that move.

Some commissioners initially raised concerns, taking into account Sampson’s tobacco-growing history. Some commissioners also said the county, while it did not have a formal smoking ordinance, should nor try to fix something that isn’t broken. At the same time, commissioners also conceded health benefits from being smoke-free.

Board chairman Jefferson Strickland pushed for individually-assigned vehicles, notably patrol cars, to be excluded from the ordinance. In reviewing proposed revisions, the Board of Health expressed its concern regarding allowing smoking in county-owned vehicles.

However, commissioners unanimously adopted the ordinance recommended by the Board of Health, with the exception that operators of individually-assigned vehicles would be permitted to smoke in their vehicles.

According to the new law, smoking will be prohibited “in any vehicle owned, leased, or controlled by the county, with the exception that smoking and the use of tobacco products is permissible in individually assigned vehicles when the only person in the vehicle is the person to whom the vehicle has been assigned.”

Smoking and the use of tobacco products are prohibited on the county grounds surrounding the Sampson County Health Department and the Department of Social Services within 50 feet of those county buildings, with no designated areas for smoking and the use of tobacco products allowed within the 50-foot perimeter. Additionally, the county shall remove all ashtrays and other smoking receptacles from its buildings and grounds except for those in designated smoking areas, the ordinance states.

Robinson said she anticipated the ordinance going into effect in February, giving her time to educate employees and others on the new rules. Holder said she was unsure what other training or education is planned, other than distributing the ordinance and asking for feedback about the location of the outside smoking areas. Robinson was not immediately reached for comment.

Causey has noted the importance of keeping employees in the fold throughout the process. Leading up to the ordinance’s approval, Veterans Service officer Ann Knowles asked whether departments would be able to choose their designated area for smoking — something the county and Causey heeded.

“I have a lot of disabled veterans, World War II, Vietnam, Korea, who still smoke. They are very nice and do not bring it in the office,” Knowles said. “I’m not going to ask them to walk 50 feet back there to smoke a cigarette and they fought to protect our country. I think each department should be allowed to have their designated area.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at