Ten Years of Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars



RALEIGH, NC—North Carolina’s smoke-free bar and restaurant law will turn ten years old on January 2, 2020, according to Morgan Wittman Gramann, Executive Director of the North Carolina Alliance for Health, the advocacy organization that led efforts to pass the law in 2009.

“It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since our state’s smoke-free law went into effect,” said Gramann. In May 2009, North Carolina became the 26th state to pass a smoke-free law that protects workers and the public from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke in public places and hospitality venues. The law went into effect on January 2, 2010.

“I congratulate the members of our General Assembly in 2010 for having the vision and the courage to pass such an important public health measure and I applaud all the partner organizations, especially the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, that worked so hard to get this law passed,” she said.

“In addition to making our dining and drinking establishments more pleasant places for families to patronize, our smoke-free law has had meaningful public health consequences,” said Gramann.

During the first year the law was in effect, North Carolina saw a 21 percent reduction in the weekly average emergency room visits for heart attacks. Secondhand smoke is a leading trigger for heart attacks and is especially dangerous for individuals who already suffer from cardiovascular disease.

Based on a benefit-cost economic study, eliminating smoking from North Carolina’s restaurants and bars saves an estimated $4.7 million per year in avoidable medical care costs for hospitality workers alone. Most importantly, air quality studies done before and after the law went into effect showed an 89 percent improvement in indoor air quality in NC restaurants and bars.

The smoke-free law has also been beneficial to restaurants and bars. A 2017 study showed that more than half of surveyed restaurant and bar owners/managers reported experiencing two or more benefits from the smoke-free law. The most frequently named benefits were that customers breathe less tobacco smoke and they receive fewer complaints about tobacco smoke. Economic studies showed the law had no negative effect on employment and revenue of NC restaurants and bars.

“Patrons have come to expect smoke-free air in North Carolina restaurants and bars. And, over these past ten years, we have seen public support for the law grow and compliance with the law improve greatly,” said Gramann.

The first month the law went into effect there were more than 500 complaints reported by individuals who witnessed smoking in a restaurant or bar. By the second year the number of complaints were down to fewer than 50 per month. Currently the state receives fewer than one complaint per month.

According to Anya Gordon, owner of Irregardless Café, business owners continue to reap the benefits of smoke-free restaurants and bars, “Irregardless Cafe has been smoke-free for 35 years – good, healthy food from the earth didn’t mix with tobacco smoke! Having our dining room smoke free all these years has promoted real community and allowed our local food menu to truly shine. Thank you to the ‘smoke-free restaurant’ advocates for encouraging all dining establishments to be smoke-free.”

But there is still work to be done, according to Gramann. “Ten years later there is still more that can be done to protect the public from the dangers of smoking and tobacco use. E-cigarette use, especially among youth, has been deemed an epidemic, and 3,100 young people are estimated to begin smoking each year in our state. Fully funded prevention and cessation programs, higher tobacco taxes, and tobacco retailer licensing are critical to curbing tobacco use in North Carolina. I hope our General Assembly will once again take steps to pass these important public health measures,” she said.