Last updated: September 16. 2013 5:24PM - 1762 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentCommissioners Albert Kirby, left, and Harry Parker look over documents at a recent Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting. The board is expected to consider a formal smoke-free ordinance for county buildings and vehicles in October.
Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentCommissioners Albert Kirby, left, and Harry Parker look over documents at a recent Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting. The board is expected to consider a formal smoke-free ordinance for county buildings and vehicles in October.
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Officially prohibiting smoking and the use of tobacco products in any county-owned building and vehicle will be a topic up for consideration by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners next month.

The topic was broached earlier this year, but will come before the county board for its review and consideration — and potential modification and approval or rejection — in October.

A sample smoke-free ordinance was presented by Health Director Wanda Robinson during the Sampson County Board of Commissioners planning session in February. Robinson touted the need for an ordinance for the health of employees and noted that Sampson is one of just 19 counties in the state that does not have formal smoke-free regulations in place for its county buildings.

A smoke-free survey was conducted for Sampson County government buildings in January 2013. Of the 18 agencies that responded, 17 reported to be smoke-free. Robinson said the only thing keeping Sampson from a smoke-free designation is a formal document.

The smoke-free ordinance was reviewed and approved by the Sampson County Board of Health during its July meeting and was submitted as part of the Board of Commissioners’ reports last week. County manager Ed Causey presented the ordinance as information to the board.

“We want to make sure you had plenty of time to review it because you may want to have some discussion and make some amendments before you go forward,” said Causey, who admitted there was some confusion among staff as to the final result of the discussion at February’s planning session. “We actually went back and listened to the tape … I sort of thought it was a done deal. The board said maybe we might consider it but they did not want any ordinance that had penalties in it.”

There were suggestions, but no resounding yes or no to a potential ordinance, Causey noted, the reason to consider the matter further.

“We didn’t get the resounding ‘we’re done with this’ that we thought we did, in listening to the tape,” the county manager said. “Mrs. Robinson had prepared a potential ordinance consistent with what she thought she understood at the meeting.”

N.C. law took effect in 2010 expanding local government’s authority to regulate smoking in government buildings and vehicles, on government grounds and for certain enclosed public places. As of early 2013, there were 81 counties in North Carolina that have, through a written regulation, 100 percent smoke-free or tobacco-free government buildings (70 counties have restrictions only on county buildings, while the other 11 have a comprehensive Board of Health rule or county board-approved ordinances in place).

When presented with the issue in February, some commissioners raised concerns, taking into account Sampson’s tobacco-growing history and what the crop still means to the county. Commissioner Jefferson Strickland took the stance that many departments already embrace a smoke-free atmosphere, with a few exceptions. He said the county board shouldn’t try to fix something that isn’t broken.

Robinson clarified that, while many departments were smoke-free, it was not because of a formal policy in place, but rather the result of a suggestion amongst county staff years ago. Robinson encouraged the board to at least consider adopting such an ordinance for buildings, if nothing else.

Commissioners Albert Kirby and Harry Parker said they did not see the harm in such an ordinance. Parker said smoke-free regulations could curb adverse health effects for employees, and the associated health care costs. It was not about fines, Parker said, but having more teeth in the form of posted signs that could act as a deterrent. Kirby said he did not think it was a slight to farmers.

“We’ve come to a different crossroads in our community. It is a different place now than what it was 50 years ago,” said Kirby. “It is a place, I think, where tobacco farmers and all would understand if there were some type of parameters around (tobacco use). Not taking away anyone’s ability to smoke, but putting in parameters.”

At the February meeting, Robinson said she could draft something for commissioners to consider. Seven months later, the ordinance, now approved by the Health Board, will be reviewed by commissioners.

In part, the draft ordinance reads, “The County of Sampson is committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace in all county facilities for its employees and a safe and healthy environment for the visiting public … (and) wishes to minimize the harmful effects of tobacco use among county employees and eliminate secondhand smoke exposure for employees and the public in and on those buildings controlled by the county.”

It continues, “In order to protect the public health and welfare, it is in the best interests of the citizens of the county to adopt an ordinance prohibiting smoking and the use of tobacco products in all county buildings.”

In adopting the ordinance, the county would post signs that state in English and Spanish that smoking and the use of tobacco products are prohibited, as well as remove all ashtrays and other smoking receptacles from its buildings and grounds. Additionally, the person in charge of the county building, vehicle, or his or her designee, shall direct a person who is smoking or using a tobacco product in a prohibited area to cease.

Nothing was approved by the board. The matter will be considered in October.

Should it be approved, the effective date will likely be set between 30 and 90 days after the ordinance is adopted to allow sufficient time for implementation.

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

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