RALEIGH, NC (WECT) – State lawmakers moved closer to stopping any local governments from regulating outdoor smoking on government property Tuesday afternoon.
A co-sponsor of Senate Bill 703 mentioned Wrightsville Beach by name before the Senate Agriculture/ Environment/ Natural Resources Committee passed the bill.
Sen. E.S. ‘Buck' Newton (R – Johnston) told committee members that he was alarmed when he read headlines about the beach town's effort to ban smoking on the sand. Newton said he could not imagine how smoking a tobacco product at a windy beach could be a criminal act.
The bill would prohibit local governments from regulating outside smoking more than state law allows.
Wrightsville Beach was the first beach town in the state to make smoking on the beach illegal after a vote in November 2012. Town Manager Tim Owens said the law would force Wrightsville Beach to repeal the ban.
"It really is a big deal depending on your viewpoint on the matter," he said. "If you are in favor of the smoking ban on the beach, you are definitely going to be disappointed if the town has to repeal the current ordinance which was approved by a referendum."
Newton said the bill would create uniformity across the state, so that people visiting an area would not have to worry about breaking the law by lighting up in a public area.
Before the bill passed, committee chair Sen. Andrew Brock (R – Davie) asked Newton if there might be a way to amend the bill and withhold revenue from the state's tobacco tax to areas trying to regulate outside smoking.
The state currently collects 45 cents for every pack of cigarettes and 12.8% on other tobacco products.
Owens said he was unaware of any specific amount the town receives in tobacco tax revenue, other than a portion of general sales tax.
No one mentioned Carolina Beach by name Tuesday, but the beach town's effort to reduce litter from cigarette butts was discussed. Newton, along with a few committee members said they understand a need to regulate waste.
Mayor Bob Lewis said the town will continue to suggest a smoke-free beach regardless of this bill becoming a law or not.
Besides beaches, the bill covers community colleges. Newton said he understands a schools need to keep smokers away from entrances, but campus-wide restrictions would be unfair to anyone wanting a smoke in the general area of the college.
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