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County health department proposes outdoor smoking restrictions; some parks, transit stops, hospital areas proposed for bans

An email release from the Durham County Health Department last week noted in an understated way that the department was inviting public comment on a proposed rule that would ban smoking in a range of public spaces.

There's nothing understated about the proposal itself, however, which would ban smoking in some public parks, akin to a recent municipal move in Raleigh. But would go significantly further, it seems, to address tobacco use in a range of non-park public spaces.

Certain parks, all city/county owned property, outdoor bus stops, and sidewalks outside hospitals and public spaces would go smokefree if the County Commissioners approve the proposal.

Parks per se wouldn't be included in the ban, but a park with playground equipment would see the "recreation area" and a 150' swath around it banned from smoking; so would City athletic fields. 

All other unenclosed areas owned by the City and County would ban smoking, as would all enclosed and unenclosed bus stops; for unenclosed, defined as the area from the bus stop sign to the end of the bus' length. 

Hospital grounds would also be off-limits for smoking, something that Duke-operated hospitals at least already enforce -- but significantly, sidewalks abutting hospitals, or those bordering City/County property for that matter, would also go smoke-free.

The downtown transit station, which has a tendency to be seemingly surrounded in a smoky haze even when buses aren't making their half-hourly discharge, would be expressly noted as a non-smoking zone, too.

No criminal penalties would exist for violations, though those refusing to cease smoking could see a visit from a sheriff deputy or Durham Police for a $50 fine.

From a pure visibility and en-masse perspective, the transit station and the area outside Duke's hospital -- the latter of which has attracted big crowds since the hospital went smokefree on its grounds a couple of years back -- would seem to be the most noteworthy places.

The changes are possible thanks to modifications in state law that took place when indoor smoking in restaurants and most other venues not named "Whiskey" went into effect a couple of years back. Previously, state law banned municipalities from enacting or enforcing their own rules on tobacco use.

If adopted, this would certainly mark another evolutionary change for a city whose prime moniker, the "Bull City," is ultimately a reference to one of the first mass-popular trademarks for Bull Durham tobacco.

To say nothing of a city where the sides of police cars and other municipal vehicles used to have an image of the tobacco leaf.

Certainly for a community that re-stylized itself as the City of Medicine, of course, one could say the conflict in branding is less obvious -- though given that I write these words before I step outside to walk to my office in what used to be the American Tobacco Company factory, the vestiges of Durham's tobacconist history will live in edifices long after the manufacturing history fades.

And maybe those names will outlast some of the visible outdoor use of the namesake product, if county health officials have their way.

(Read more in the main story over at the Herald-Sun.)



But what about all the our parking attendants? The ALL smoke!


Duke does not enforce the smoking ban. I work in Duke South and see people daily smoking right outside the main entrance, right next to the signs, no less. Smokers are like water, they will find a spot to settle and gather.

Joshua Adams

Give them (smokers) a designated smoking area with an enclosed container and filter . It seems to help a bunch at the airports I've visited.


I agree with Josh, put them in a cage with it's own atmospheric conditions.


I think the smokers' gathering place by the bus stop in front of Duke Hospital North is a total embarrassment for Duke and for Durham. I support any move that would move the smoking area someplace less conspicuous and more contained! Also, that particular gathering area makes it nearly impossible to get back and forth between the VAMC and Duke North via the outdoor route without exposure to second hand smoke. I used to call it the gauntlet when I worked over there...

Obviously this proposal would impact many more places in Durham than just the Erwin Road bus stop. Making playgrounds, public properties, hospitals, bus stops, and recreational areas smoke-free seems like a good step forward for the general health of Durham. I like it.


Agreed Emily, that is pretty disgusting. The area in the back of Duke South is equally bad...littered with butts everywhere. Someday that spot is going to go up in flames since there is a blanket of dry pine needles there. The front of Duke South is only used as an ashtray by visitors, and I am loathe to remind them that it is a non-smoking area since they are there to see patients ( probably ).


@Emily....I feel sorry for the people that actually need that shelter to catch a bus.

(non) Smoking Man

Make sure your support is heard:

"Persons wishing to comment on the proposed Health Department Rule should submit their written comments to the Durham County Board of Health, Attn: Gayle Harris, Director, at the above address or via email at Please reference the “Smoking Rule” in the title of all responses to this request."

Paul McCall

Seems like this is one of the few things society feels we can be disdainfully judgmental (and litigious) about... I get banning smoking from buildings. But in parks and on streets? I didn't think we'd follow Raleigh down this road to idiocy. A little liberty people... if it bothers you, walk upwind.

I've never smoked a cigarette of any kind, and I support taxing the crap out of them, but no need to ostracize people. I'll do what I can to keep this BS legislation from passing.


Paul, don't you think the public has the right to regulate carcinogenic pollutant emissions in public spaces?

Paul McCall

I do, but let's start with those that actually matter. Smoking does not in the grand scheme of things, and pursuit of smokers has turned into a witch hunt.

It's not hard to divert oneself a few feet out of the line of smoke. Literally less than 10 feet. Most smokers hate their habit and are courteous and aware of the fact that smoke is not enjoyed by most.

The one area where I do have an issue with in this debate is the public healthcare costs of smokers. But that really is unrelated.


I'm not actually FOR a smoking ban in parks and on streets, but it sure would be nice if smokers paid a little more attention to those around them and the litter that they cause. That will never happen though, the almighty nicotine fix supercedes everything else, etiquette and common sense be damned.


For folks who suffer from things like asthma or migraines even inhaling a little smoke while trying to walk up wind from a smoker at a park etc can cause problems. For some it's trying to avoid having to pop a $20 migraine pill and deal with the side effects just because someone decides to light up where he/she feels like it. No it's not a witch hunt, it's people trying to protect their own health, manage health issues they may have, and improve their quality of life.

(non) Smoking Man

@Paul: Not sure with which smokers you share air. I am constantly amazed at the rude and callous behavior of smokers...dropping butts, smoking in their car with children present, standing directly outside doors where smoke cannot be avoided and inevitably drifts inside. They may hate their habit, but in my experience, that does not make them courteous or aware of others. I always figured the opposite was the case - people willing to pollute their bodies don't have much respect or consideration for themselves, others, or our environment.

Whatever the case, let smokers walk out of their way to get their fix. The proposed smoking rule does not forbid smoking outdoors, but rather limits to areas that are not populated by health-conscious people (parks, near hospitals, etc).

And we haven't even touched on the public healthcare costs of smoking, which are definitively related ... and astronomical.

Frank Hyman

Hope this proposal is successful. I also hope restaurants are more pro-active in dealing with smokers. I'm thinking here of Federal on Main St. A couple of times I've headed over there to sit outside and get a bite to eat, but have left to get a meal elsewhere.


Because smokers come out of the restaurant and stand just outside the wall around the seating area by the front door to light up, chat with other smokers or people sitting inside the wall and waving their cigarettes around and exhaling smoke upwind of people like me, trying to decide what to order.

Smelling tobacco smoke and the nasty chemicals in it, while you're trying to decide what to eat (or smelling that in the middle of a meal) is really nasty, and the smokers who smoke around people who are trying to eat are inconsiderate.


I have to agree wholeheartedly that most smokers tend to think that the world is their ashtray. You should have seen the state of the Verizon front entrance (which was supposed to be a non-smoking area). This entrance was within easy access to a smoker's trash can. We've come along way though, I can still remember the days when smoking was allowed in the office. I sat beside a smoker for 2 years. For the first time in my life I had respiratory issues (too many colds and one time bronchitis). This individual did try to accomodate me by placing an air filter in her cube, but it still wasn't enough. After being away from the smoke for a few years I returned to normal. Thanks for letting me vent.

Flynn Ashby

Even if the proposed rule could not be passed, it would seem wise for the public space around our public buildings to be declared smoke-free.
A friend of mine works for the City and she claims they had a policy of not allowing smoking in front of City buildings. Smoking was still allowed around the side or out back, but folks knew that having smokers in front of our public offices was simply de classe.
Recently, she told us at a party about a new bigwig being hired, and the guy spends a good deal of his day pacing in front of the building smoking his cigs.
I commented that the smokers outside the County building have always drove me nuts...and we agreed that smoking should be banned on public property...certainly on the property of City/County buildings; not sure if we really could ban smoking in parks, though!

Paul McCall

"de classe". Thanks for making my point.


Smokers tossing their butts anywhere ought to be fined just like anyone else who litters.

Lets not stereotype people so broadly, sure some smokers are inconsiderate jerks, just as some non-smokers are. I doubt that there is a direct correlation between the two.


Paul, smokers can be fined as litterers. I AM going to generalize, the percentage of smokers that litter is much higher than non-smokers who litter. For every piece of "other" trash I see thrown out of a car window or on the ground, I see 20 cigarette butts.

John Davis

McDonalds is much more costly to American health than smoking. Lets ban the Big Mac. I also say we should ban all liberals from being out in daylight. After all liberals are much more toxic than smokers.

Durham Mom

I am 100% in favor of banning smoking in parks. I am always floored when a person decides to light up a cigarette at a playground with children playing all around. Not to mention the butts they leave in the sand for the toddlers to put in their mouths. I've always felt powerless when someone lights up, and have been forced to scoop up my kids and leave. This would be a great improvement to Durham.


At our park, people generally put out their cigarettes when the kids come or move to a different section of the park.

If they don't, I ask them to and there has never been a problem from my request.


Durham: Find Your Cool
(but don't smoke or speed)

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