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Mecklenburg smoking bans officially begin

A Mecklenburg Park and Recreation truck displays new artwork that advertises Mecklenburg County’s new ban on smoking on government grounds.
A Mecklenburg Park and Recreation truck displays new artwork that advertises Mecklenburg County’s new ban on smoking on government grounds. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

George Dunlap played a key part in pushing through the Mecklenburg County commissioners the ordinances that took effect Wednesday banning smoking from the grounds of government buildings and all tobacco use in most parks and greenways.

Yet when Charlotte Assistant City Manager Ann Wall began to tick off names of places during a kickoff event where smoking is no longer allowed – including city-owned Bojangles’ Coliseum, Ovens Auditorium, Time Warner Cable Arena, NASCAR Hall of Fame and even the transportation centers run by CATS – even Dunlap was surprised.

“Truth be told, when we passed those ordinances, I didn’t realize that it impacted those facilities too,” said Dunlap, the commissioner who chaired the board’s Health and Human Services Committee that began the initiative at the urging of Health Director Marcus Plescia. “When we brought in the city facilities, I was thinking government buildings – not the arena or NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“But that’s great. Anything that cuts down on smoking will make us a healthier county.”

Plescia and Park and Recreation Director Jim Garges hosted the launch at Marshall Park uptown, with some brief speech-making and unveiling of park ranger trucks with back windows wrapped in a sign announcing the bans. The signs are on all ranger trucks and a good part of the county fleet, particularly the cars of environmental health staffers who help enforce the bans in restaurants and bars.

Plescia and Garges also planned 14 events Wednesday at schools. “A big emphasis of this is looking at ways to keep kids from starting to smoke,” Plescia said.

The ban covers primarily the grounds of all government buildings, including those operated by the city of Charlotte and the county’s six other municipalities. And as Wall pointed out, it covers facilities managed by CATS – including all bus shelters – and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

All tobacco use, including electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco, is banned at county parks and greenways, except for 18 larger, regional parks and six county-run golf courses.

Plescia called the bans “a big deal” in the largest county of a state that has a rich tobacco history. “Making a difference in chronic diseases is what we need to do in this county,” he said. “Chronic diseases are the main causes of death, and probably more important, these are the main causes of suffering in our community.

“As the director of the health department, we have to do everything in our power to reduce chronic diseases and reduce the pain and suffering that come with them. There is nothing more powerful to have an impact on chronic diseases than to lower the use of tobacco.”

Garges, who has advocated for years to make parks tobacco-free, called Wednesday a “historic moment for Mecklenburg County.”

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