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.)