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Smoking bans gain momentum in America

BEER and cigarettes go together like cows and hay in Wisconsin. North Carolina is the top United States tobacco-growing state.

Yet bars and restaurants in both states are poised to go smoke-free after their state legislatures passed bans on Wednesday. Both North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle have said they support the measures.

Twenty-two US states and the District of Columbia have prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants since New York City passed its landmark ban in 2003. Four more states - Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Virginia - will do so by the end of the year. Florida, Idaho and Nevada ban smoking in restaurants.

The North Carolina House's 62-56 vote marked yet another step away from the legacy of tobacco in a state that is still the nation's top producer by sales. Last year, North Carolina farmers produced US$686 million worth of tobacco, nearly half the value of the entire US output.

"It is definitely a historic move," said Betsy Vetter, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association's North Carolina chapter. "We think this will protect a large portion of the population from secondhand smoke, and that's quite an accomplishment for public health."

Their law would allow fines of up to US$50 for smokers who keep puffing after being asked by an establishment's managers to stop, but the law can only be enforced by a local health director and not police. Hospitality owners or managers could be fined up to US$200 after being warned twice to enforce the smoking rules.

In Wisconsin, lawmakers voted for a bill marking a truce between the Wisconsin Tavern League and anti-smoking and health groups.

Republican Representative Leah Vukmir branded the ban "anti-smoking zealotry."

"The only thing that's compromised are individual rights and individual freedoms," she said.


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