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Waynesville bans smoking on public sidewalks, subtly and with a smile

haywoodA smoking ban in public places took effect in Waynesville last week, making it illegal to light up a cigarette on town sidewalks.

The smoking ban became official with little fanfare. You won’t find smoking police stationed at downtown street corners, blowing their whistles at offenders. You won’t even find no smoking signs — at least not yet.

“We are doing a slow roll out on this,” said Town Manager Marcy Onieal. “It will be a gradual education process, not a hammer. This is sort of ‘as we see a need we will address it.’”

The smoking ban was passed in May, but a six-month grace period was built in for people to get used to the idea and for word to get around. The ban includes chewing tobacco and vaping.

It applies to all town property — from the public works garage to greenways. But the ban carries the most punch downtown, where smokers are left with few places to partake now that sidewalks are off limits.

Some smokers believe there will be repercussions for downtown merchants.

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“This is such a tourist community. People smoke, and if you ban smoking on the sidewalk it will hurt the businesses,” said Allyson Suriano, 39, who was smoking with friends over a late afternoon beer on the back deck of Frog Level Brewery.

“Women will start spending less because their husbands who can’t smoke will be like ‘hurry up,’” added Bethel Morales.

Town leaders contemplated that when passing the ban, but in the end decided it would be a negligible factor — and that it might even add to the town’s appeal. 

“We feel like this could be part of the marketing for our area,” said Amie Owens, Waynesville’s town clerk and special projects coordinator. “It is a bold step for a town to do this.”

Downtown Waynesville Association Director Buffy Phillips said most merchants are fine with the ban. The big question they have is how it will be enforced.

Owens said the town will use a light touch and hopes it seeps into the public consciousness.

“The focus is not to penalize smokers or those using tobacco but for this to serve as an educational opportunity,” Owens said.

Ideally merchants will be partners in the education campaign. If someone is smoking on a bench outside their store and it bothers them, they now have grounds to ask them to move on. The same for a mom at the park who is irked by the teenagers smoking in front of her kids.

“This is to empower everyone in the community to educate others,” Onieal said.

It’s unclear at this point what the recourse is if someone is bothered by a smoker but too shy to say something themselves.

“How comfortable are they speaking with those customers? If they aren’t, who do they call?” Phillips said. 

Owens plans to visit merchants over the next couple of months to answer those questions.

“We would like to take an individualistic approach to this,” Owens said.

The town will give merchants brochures to keep on hand to give out.

“If they have a problem with folks congregating in front of their doors smoking they will have a brochure they can go hand them,” Onieal said.


Pressure points

The town didn’t set aside any designated smoking areas as part of the ban. Smoking is allowed on private property, but there are few islands of private turf in the heart of downtown, especially on Main Street. 

Once you step out the door of a bar or restaurant, you’re instantly on the sidewalk. The sidewalk serves as the de facto smoking section for bars on Main Street from nightfall to closing time. Smokers will now have to cram against the entryway to stay on the bar’s side of the property line.

For Suriano, she’ll now be more likely to choose bars with private outdoor seating where you can smoke instead of the Main Street bars.

“It would be a factor,” she said.

Clay Wilson, 46, suggested lifting the ban after 8 p.m. so it doesn’t impact the nightlife scene.

“When the sun goes down, it is basically all adults. The kids aren’t out — and those are the ones we’re trying to protect,” said Wilson, a former smoker.

Aside from the bar scene, street festivals will pose another hurdle for the smoking ban. Waynesville has around three dozen street events downtown a year.

Alongside the vigorous lineup of parades and festivals, there’s block parties, square dances, art strolls, race after-parties, mass dog walks, holiday festivities, and lesser known events from the pumpkin catapult (a post-Halloween launching of jack-o-lanterns) to the wine race (pitting waiters hefting trays loaded down with wine glasses).

Protecting the masses from the annoyance of a smoker in the crowd was one of the drivers behind the town’s smoking ban.

“We understand people have different lifestyles, but we are saying this is uncomfortable for people to do on the public sidewalks where people are crowded together,” Onieal said. “Our hope is people will be considerate of each other.”

The county recently banned smoking on the historic courthouse and justice center grounds, so the parking deck has become a popular place for smokers to congregate.


From the trailblazer next door

Nearby Canton can claim the trendsetter title as the first town in the region to pass a smoking ban for public places. Canton’s went into effect last fall. But it’s not as stringent as Waynesville’s.

Unlike Waynesville, Canton’s ban doesn’t apply to sidewalks. There simply wasn’t as big a need.

“We don’t have issues like Waynesville with hundreds of people on the sidewalks,” Canton Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss said.

Canton’s ban mostly notably applies to town parks and rec complexes — including the pool, walking paths, outdoor concert venues and ball fields.

Unlike Waynesville, Canton carved out designated smoking areas in the parking lot of the rec park.

“We decided to provide some safe havens for people who did want to smoke,” Hendler-Voss said. “We tried to provide some level of convenience for smokers.”

When the ban went into effect in Canton, getting the word out took patience. 

“We were constantly having to enforce it at first,” Hendler-Voss said.

The biggest effort was no doubt Pickin’ in the Park, the Friday night mountain music series that draws hundreds of people. Two town police officers walked the park telling anyone who lit up that they had to take it to the parking lot.

Hendler-Voss soon realized a bigger splash was needed at first to get the word out more efficiently, so the town pressed the police departments mobile lighted speed boards — the kind that flash your speed from a hundred yards away — and programmed them with a no smoking message to set up for the night.

Hendler-Voss said they really didn’t get any pushback but that people willingly removed themselves to the parking lot rather than smoking from their seat like they used to.

Waynesville has ordered 100 signs to put around town, including parks, public parking lots, downtown, and town premises like town hall.

They are an attractive steel blue, with a green tree and mountains flanking the town’s logo. Instead of “no smoking” the sign uses positive messaging, inviting the public to enjoy a smoke-free Waynesville. It includes the 1-800 quit line for good measure. They will begin showing up next month.

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