by the YES! Staff


The last of a dying breed

As of this week, you cannot smoke a Winston or a Salem, even in Winston-Salem.

Some see it as akin to banning tea in China, but the fact remains that this week North Carolina, the country’s biggest producer of tobacco, banned smoking in restaurants and (gasp) bars.

It’s not such a crazy thing — smoking is, after all, a repulsive habit known to cause cancer not only among its practitioners but everyone in their vicinity. Banning it in public and places where people work is a logical and reasonable move.

And truth be told, we’re a little late to the non-smoking party. As it stands, half of all states prohibit smoking in all public places with varying degrees of wiggle room. Just 11 of them have no smoking legislation at all — they just happen to be clustered all around us.

However, we come not to bury NC’s anti-smoking law, but to praise its rich tobacco heritage.

It is no exaggeration to say that this state was built largely on tobacco money, particularly here in the Piedmont Triad where RJ Reynolds makes its world headquarters and none of us is ever too far from a tobacco farm.

Way back in the good old days, Winston-Salem was one of the busiest cities in the South, and the annual tobacco market one of the hottest tickets in town. Tobacco brought prominence to the Old North State — creating jobs, soaking up subsidies, generating revenue with a product that consumers were literally dying to buy.

On the whole, it was a pretty good run. But the fact remains: If you were to eat a salad made from fresh tobacco leaves, you would definitely get sick. As more and more people recognize the toxicity of tobacco, fewer and fewer take up the habit, resulting in a declining customer base that has no real hope of resurrection.

Even 10 years ago, a smoking ban in North Carolina would have been unheard of. Today it’s a populist move.

This means that yet another one of our state’s treasured industries — along with furniture and textiles — is going the way of the beeper.

Our question is: What will replace it? What will come of the workers in the tobacco processing plants when cigarettes are no longer a viable commodity because the only place you’ll be able to smoke them is your garage at night? And what of the tobacco farmers?

The easy answer is to legalize marijuana in this state and let the farmers grow it on the old tobacco fields. And we’ll say about that what everyone around here used to say about no-smoking laws in tobacco country: Never gonna happen.

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