The Scotland County Board of Health will explore the possibility of a smoking ban in local parks and other public areas after a presentation by Health Director Wayne Raynor.
In 2010, the General Assembly banned smoking in all restaurants in the state. In a more recent session, lawmakers gave local governments the authority to pursue smoke-free policies in other areas.
Raynor cited the health risks involved with smoking and second-hand smoke as well as the nuisance of carelessly discarded cigarette butts.
“Environmental health organizations like Keep America Beautiful and The Ocean Conservancy and the North Carolina Big Sweep consistently report cigarette butts as a leading cause of litter, and I know I’ve heard [Scotland County Parks and Recreation Director] Shannon [Newton] talk about the parks and how many cigarette butts they pick up on a daily basis,” said Raynor.
Although Raynor requested no official action from the board, which includes County Commissioner Bob Davis, it was receptive to further discussion of a measure to outlaw smoking in public areas.
“What we would like to do, if it’s the general feeling that we should move forward on this, is to draft a policy, work with county leadership, the county manager, parks and rec, other departments, and the commissioners on doing a joint way forward,” Raynor told the board Tuesday night. “It is a big step, but I think it’s pretty well-documented, more than ever, the hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke.”
According to Kathie Cox, health educator at the health department, it is unlikely that enforcement of such an ordinance would be a concern.
“It usually comes down to where you don’t really have to have law enforcement and enforcement is not a huge issue simply because, especially in a park situation, you’re going to have a lot of parents there with kids who do not smoke who may happen to see someone light up a cigarette and someone is going to say ‘There’s no smoking in this area,’” Cox said. “So really it kind of takes care of itself.”
Similar smoking bans in other counties prohibit smoking on county grounds, at bus stops, on sidewalks, and in child care facilities, polling places, public areas, retail stores, and libraries.
“Some counties have done it and they really did it right, giving an opportunity for education and to put the word out six or seven months before it actually takes effect to educate the public and let everybody know what’s coming and the reasons why: you’ve got the science behind you and it’s the right thing to do,” said Raynor. “That’s what public health is all about.”
In other business, the board approved a contract with VaxCare, a Florida vaccine distributor, to provide fall flu shots. Unlike previous companies the health department has worked with, VaxCare will take back unused vaccines, potentially saving the health department thousands.
“It’s something that was proposed to us because of our loss and expenses in providing services to the public,” said Board of Health Chairman Jane Murray. “We lost several thousand dollars last year from vaccine that wasn’t used, so it takes away that risk.”
The health department, which formerly vaccinated 2,000 local residents during flu season, now competes with pharmacies, including Walmart’s, that will also inoculate patients.
“Last year we ordered 500 doses and took a loss of 250 doses because the cash payers, when they came in and wanted a vaccine and we said $34, they said ‘No way, I’m going to Walmart,’ where they had it for twenty something,” said Tina Clark, health department director of nursing.
Receiving vaccinations at the health department will still be free of cost for those covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or qualifying insurance. For those paying in cash, the health department will set a fee.
Prices for vaccinations through the health department have risen because it orders vaccinations as an individual entity rather than in bulk.
“We used to get bulk buying through the state - the state would send us vaccine through the Center for Disease Control and got a better price,” Raynor said. “We got most of our vaccine from the state at one point, but that’s kind of gone away. The state’s not so much in the vaccine business anymore.”
Board member Dave Raley suggested that the health department stop offering flu vaccinations, as pharmacies would also accept Medicare and Medicaid.
“We’ve kicked that idea around and discussed it, and thought that as a public health department we might be criticized for it,” Raynor replied.