By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
January 3, 2020
Smoking or non-smoking? For years that was the question North Carolina residents were asked nearly every time they entered a restaurant or bar, but thanks to the smoke-free law championed by the Christian Action League, Tar Heel restaurants are marking a decade of clean air.
“I was so thankful from the beginning to have been asked to be a part of the push for the smoking ban, and I am even more grateful today — 10 years after it took effect — because we are seeing the fruits of our labors,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, CAL’s executive director.
In a press release issued Thursday, the North Carolina Alliance for Health’s Morgan Wittman Gramann said the law not only makes dining and drinking establishments more pleasant places, but that it has had meaningful public health consequences including an 89 percent improvement in indoor air quality in restaurants and bars.
During the law’s first year, the state saw a 21 percent drop in the weekly average emergency room visits for heart attacks, for which secondhand smoke is a leading trigger. Cases of asthma also decreased. And a benefit-cost analysis shows the smoking ban saves roughly $4.7 million per year in avoidable healthcare costs for hospitality workers.
While the law’s benefits are obvious now, persuading some legislators to enact the ban was no small feat. Many restaurant owners feared they would lose business if they had to deny patrons the right to light up. And although bans had been passed in 25 other states, passing one in North Carolina was truly an uphill battle.
“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,” Garmann said in the release, further commending a range of organizations that worked in lockstep to promote the cause.
During the push for the new law, the Rev. Creech wrote op-eds explaining why, as a conservative evangelical Christian, he supported this legislation. He lobbied lawmakers, held press conferences and addressed General Assembly committees, often acknowledging that for some elected officials in the nation’s top tobacco-producing state the change in the law would be nothing short of painful. Even so, he contended it was the right thing to do to save lives.
“Support for the passage of this legislation may have been one of my finest moments as a lobbyist for Christian values,” Creech said, despite the fact that many conservatives considered the smoking ban an infringement on the rights of business owners to run their establishments as they saw fit.
“They said businesses were already protecting the public’s health with rooms designated for smoking. But I argued that second-hand smoke was the greatest violation of property rights – the right to protect my body from a cigarette’s noxious fume. Moreover, a smoking area in a restaurant, I said, was much like a urination section in a swimming pool – it just doesn’t provide the protection the public really needs.”
“I said it a decade ago, and it is still true today,” Creech added. “Smoke-related illnesses kill about a half a million people every year. It’s a national health crisis, and we are derelict in our moral duty if we don’t speak up about it.”
For his many contributions in support of the restaurant smoking ban, Creech received a framed certificate of appreciation from the North Carolina Alliance for Health and Faith United Against Tobacco and a letter of commendation from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In a letter dated February 20, 2009, former ERLC President, Dr. Richard Land wrote to Rev. Creech:
“I want to thank you for your tireless efforts to protect the people of North Carolina and our nation from the dangers of tobacco use. As you know, Southern Baptist have been calling for curbs on tobacco use for decades. Our first national resolution on tobacco in 1932 called for efforts to curb tobacco use so that ‘our young people, at least, may hope to escape the experience of an habitual slavery to tobacco.’ As recently as 2005, Southern Baptist gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, committed themselves by resolution to ‘seek ways, through personal efforts and coalitions, to become more involved in our communities and states to prevent and reduce smoking and other tobacco us, especially among teens.
“The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission commends you for everything you have done to help protect people from the deadly effects of tobacco use. Many thousands of people in North Carolina and throughout the United States will benefit through your dedicated service.”
“Certainly it was a time for celebration, and the CAL was thrilled to be recognized,” Creech said. “But even more thrilling is the thought that for an entire decade thousands of families across our state have not had to hear that question … smoking or non-smoking? … when they walked into a restaurant, thousands of hospitality workers have not had to sacrifice their health for their job, and thousands of children are growing up without having to sit in the midst of secondhand smoke just to eat their dinner.”