Accomodating Smokers in the wake of the Smoking ban

It’s been less than two months since the new North Carolina smoking in restaurants ban went into affect, but many establishments are already scrambling to provide outdoor accommodations for smokers. This is great news for awning companies, patio builders and the companies that make those propane heaters.

But restaurateurs need to be aware that they may create new problems for themselves trying to accommodate smokers. First of all, if you’re going to install an awning, build a deck or even just pour a concrete patio, you need a building permit. And getting a permit for these kinds of structures will also trigger a review by the zoning department who will be checking to see that you’re not violating any ordinances.

One thing in particular to be aware of is that the new seating area you’ve created must have adequate parking to support it. You may also be asked to show that the additional impervious area (surfaces that can’t absorb rain water) you’re adding doesn’t exceed the limitation for your particular property.

You also need to be aware that the new law anticipated these outdoor seating areas and placed limitations on what you can do. According to SmokeFree.NC.Gov, smoking is not allowed in an enclosed area. An area is considered to be enclosed if it has (A) a roof or other overhead covering and (B) walls or side coverings on all sides or on all sides but one.

And there’s still some confusion on who’s exempt from the law. Although most food and beverage facilities are required to comply there are a few exceptions. One of the more surprising are restaurants that serve only beverages that use single service containers (paper/plastic cups and the like) provided the beverages are not made from raw apples or potentially hazardous beverages made from raw fruits or vegetables. However if you’re required to have ABC permits then the exception doesn’t apply. So if, for example, you’re a coffee shop and use paper cups only then you can allow smoking.

There are a few other exceptions including private clubs (under some very specific conditions) and restaurants that are exempt from the state’s sanitation laws.

So the bottom line is to first verify that you’re required to comply. If you think you’re not I’d recommend checking with an attorney. And if you want to build an outdoor smoking area consult with a design professional before you spend a lot of money on something you’ll be forced to tear down.

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