A smoker sits underneath a tree along the sidewalks in front of Vidant Medical Center on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)
“No one expects the police to be writing tickets to enforce this type of rule. I would expect it to be self-enforced by the public community, the same way the ordinance prohibiting smoking in restaurants has been.”
Dr. John Morrow
Pitt County Health Department
By Michael Abramowitz
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Pitt County Board of Health members decided last week that they want to see smoking ended in many public areas throughout the county, beginning with the sidewalks around Vidant Medical Center.
At a Tuesday meeting, the nine-member board discussed how they could enlist the cooperation of Greenville and Vidant officials and the public to convince sidewalk smokers to stop. The medical center has a tobacco-free policy throughout its campus, and has no designated smoking areas on its property, but the sidewalks are not within its enforcement jurisdiction, Vidant officials said.
“I have been working with the dean of the Brody School of Medicine, as well as the director of the Pitt County Public Health Department to develop plans to improve the health status of Greenville and Pitt County,” medical center president Steve Lawler said on Wednesday.
Lawler said hospital officials have shared their idea to have the areas bordering the medical center campus designated as “medical zones” and as a smoke-free environment.
“Pitt County is currently ranked 54th (of the state’s 100 counties) for health status. If we want to see any improvement in our ranking and better the health of our population, we have to take small steps to begin alleviating those at-risk behaviors,” Lawler said.
A state smoking law that became effective in 2010 allows boards of health to enact local rules on smoking in public areas. Two county health boards, in Durham and Orange counties, have done that. The Orange County Board of Health enacted a rule restricting smoking on all public sidewalks throughout that county, while Durham’s is pinpointed to specific areas.
Special Deputy Attorney General Mabel Bullock issued an opinion based on N.C. General Statute 130A-39(c) which provides that, “…a board of health’s rules are valid throughout the county, including municipalities served by the board.”
“This is a reaffirmation of rules that have always (provided state boards of health) the authority to do that sort of thing,” Pitt County Health Department director Dr. John Morrow said.
Despite the affirmation of the health department’s authority, the state statutes raised questions and was unclear in its wording about how policies and rules from the boards of health become enacted as ordinances. Bullock declined to clarify the opinion to “the general public” on Thursday, saying through a spokesperson only that “city officials are welcome to consult with our office about their specific questions.”
Morrow agreed with health board member and county commissioner Tom Johnson that, regardless of jurisdiction, enforcement of a public smoking ruling would be problematic.
“The medical campus is within the city, so the City Council could pass an ordinance prohibiting smoking on the sidewalks, or the board could do that” Morrow said. “I think it would be preferable to let the city do that if they desire to.”
City Attorney David Holec said the state, not the city or county, has jurisdiction over the sidewalks surrounding the medical campus.
All the officials appeared to agree that legal enforcement is not their preferred approach to the issue.
“No one expects the police to be writing tickets to enforce this type of rule,” Morrow said. “I would expect it to be self-enforced by the public community, the same way the ordinance prohibiting smoking in restaurants has been. Guests speak up when they see someone light up there, and public opinion and engagement seems to be effective over time.”
Vidant Medical Center president Steve Lawler issued a statement that reinforced the hospital’s wish to solve the smoking issue as a community.
“It makes sense as a provider of medical services that Vidant Medical Center work with other community partners to improve those behaviors or habits that are contrary to good health,” Lawler said.
Health board member Jeff Wilson agreed that the effort to educate the public and change public smoking policies is a shared responsibility and the right direction for the board to move.
“It’s not just our decision,” Wilson said. “There are other agencies and other entities that want to pursue and decide this, and we’re here to help them with that.”
Anna Skinner of Grifton, a smoker who was visiting someone at the hospital on Friday, commented on both sides of the issue as she enjoyed a cigarette on the sidewalk in front of the hospital.
“I hate having to come out here, but it’s appropriate because the hospital grounds are clean and sanitary,” Skinner said. “I would use a designated area if one was available, but I will follow the rules and come out here if none is available on the hospital grounds.
“This sidewalk is not a safe place to be at night, though. I don’t know where the hospital thinks smokers who come to visit patients will go if they can’t do it here, and I don’t know what they think the state would do about smokers on their sidewalks.”
Morrow said he is interested in establishing more smoke-free areas in the county and suggested they could include the medical district, bus stops and multi-unit housing areas where children are being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Morrow said he already has spoken with Greenville’s city manager, Barbara Lipscomb, about possible city measures on the issue.
Contact Michael Abramowitz at email@example.com or 252-329-9571.
via The Daily Reflector.