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Smoking ban hits a snag in the Senate

By Paul Woolverton

Staff writer


RALEIGH — The proposed ban on smoking at most workplaces hit a snag Wednesday when the film industry told legislators the bill would hamper movie and television production in North Carolina.

The industry asked lawmakers for an exemption for television and film actors to smoke during performances. Lawmakers are working on such a provision, said Sen. Bill Purcell of Laurinburg, co-chairman of the committee.

But the Senate will likely make other key changes in the bill, which passed the House this month. They are expected to close a loophole that would allow smoking in bars and clubs where children aren’t allowed, but not in most restaurants and family establishments.

State liquor laws make it difficult in some circumstances to operate a nightclub or bar without a restaurant or hotel attached. The House version of the bill says any establishment that allows patrons under 18 would have to be smoke-free.

The exemption for bars and nightclubs turned the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association against the bill. The association argues that it puts restaurants and hotels at a competitive disadvantage against smoker-friendly nightclubs.

Purcell said there are plans to revise the bill to remove the exemption in effort to protect public health. With the loophole closed, Purcell expects the restaurant association to drop its opposition.

The film industry raised concerns about the bill Wednesday morning, shortly before the Health Committee was scheduled to begin debating the smoking ban. As written, “it would say you can’t smoke in workplaces, and a movie scene is a workplace,” Purcell said.

In an interview early this year, Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville, a prime sponsor of the bill, said the ban would also apply to actors smoking in stage shows. The Gilbert Theater and Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville sometimes present plays in which the actors smoke.

The restriction would make it more difficult for some movies and television shows to be filmed in North Carolina, said Vans Stevenson, a vice president with the Motion Picture Association of America. The MPAA has asked for an exemption.

Television shows and films are made at studios in Wilmington, and some films have been shot in other locations around the state.

“We support banning smoking in the workplace,” Stevenson said.

Modifying the bill would allow actors to depict smoking when a script or scene calls for it, he added.

As an example, Stevenson said, a World War II movie likely would depict soldiers smoking because the Army used to issue cigarettes to soldiers.

“There’s a lot of storytelling that calls for those kind of depictions because art imitates life,” he said.

The Senate Health Committee is to resume considering the bill when it meets next Wednesday, Purcell said.

Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at woolvertonp@fayobserver.com or 486-3512.

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