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Statewide smoking ban starts Saturday

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The New Year brings with it cleaner air in most North Carolina bars and restaurants. A statewide smoking ban takes effect Saturday. WFAE's Julie Rose reports: Restaurants and bars must go smoke-free starting Saturday, or face fines. The main exceptions to that are cigar bars and non-profit private clubs like the Elks Lodge. According to local health department estimates 65 percent of restaurants in Mecklenburg County and about half in Gaston County were already smoke-free before the law passed. Gaston County Health Coordinator LaVerne Partlow says a lot of others were open to it, but afraid to lose business. "They were waiting on a law - they didn't want to step out themselves and institute such a change for their restaurant or bar," says Partlow. Anti-smoking advocates have tried unsuccessfully for years to counter the powerful tobacco lobby in North Carolina and get a smoking ban passed by lawmakers. Until now, state law has also prohibited local governments from passing their own smoking bans. That made Charlotte the largest city in the country without any kind of prohibition on smoking in public places. More details available at www.smokefree.nc.gov.