County moves closer to smoke-free status

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

October 18, 2013

The Sampson Board of Commissioners is “making progress” toward the adoption of a smoke-free designation for county buildings and vehicles, an issue to be considered further by the board in November after mulling the matter in September and again last week.

Health Department director Wanda Robinson has 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.

During the recent meeting, Commissioner Jefferson Strickland asked about designated places on county grounds where smoking would be prohibited and permitted. He also said there should be a distinction made between vehicles used for transport and those essentially used as mobile offices, such as patrol cars and others.

“I would like for the commissioners to consider that we look at vehicles in two different categories,” said Strickland, “those vehicles that transport people as opposed to a car that is used by a deputy sheriff or an inspection agent. If it is not used for transporting people like a bus or a van. If we could prohibit smoking in those and delete ‘vehicles’…”

“I see some value (in this ordinance), but I would modify this to include that,” said Strickland. “You do need those designations.”

County manager Ed Causey said bringing the matter back could give department heads the opportunity to speak to the issue. Veterans Service officer Ann Knowles asked whether departments would be able to choose their designated area for smoking.

“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.”

Strickland said he did not disagree with that.

“I think that every department should have some say-so in this,” Knowles noted.

A smoke-free survey, conducted for Sampson 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 is a formal document.

Robinson encouraged the board to at least consider adopting such an ordinance for buildings, if nothing else.

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. 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. That notwithstanding, other commissioners touted the health benefits from being smoke-free.

“At one time, I thought there would be resistance in even having (an ordinance),” said Kirby. “So I think we’re making progress.”

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