We could not escape smoking in downtown Asheville

We love to spend time in downtown Asheville because we really enjoy the vibrant street scene, musicians, festivals, characters and local restaurants, shops and bars.

When my wife got pregnant, we sought to rid our lives of toxins. We removed chemicals from our home, purchased only organic and non-GMO foods (those without genetically modified organisms) and even had our vehicle’s exhaust leak repaired. But there was one source of cancer-causing chemicals, poison gases and toxic metals that we could not escape and that was from smoking downtown.

While many people think that cigarettes are merely an annoyance, the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists over 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke. These include the poisonous gases hydrogen cyanide, toluene and carbon monoxide, cancer-causing chemicals including formaldehyde, benzene and polonium 210 (radioactive) and toxic metals including lead and arsenic. When you smell cigarette smoke, you are inhaling these chemicals.

To walk downtown forces everyone to pass smokers on the street. The dangerous effects of secondhand smoke are well-documented, which is why most states, including North Carolina, have banned smoking inside businesses. This is a great first step but it puts smokers on the sidewalks.

To pass or enter a business downtown, especially a bar or restaurant, often forces people to walk through groups of smokers outside the door. Many restaurants have patios that allow smoking. This drives everyone else inside, but even worse these patios are often open to the restaurant allowing smoke to enter. There is simply no place downtown to avoid the class A carcinogens in cigarette smoke.

When Boulder, Colo., banned smoking indoors, it also banned smoking downtown, anticipating the hazards of smoke in the public right of way. Cigarette smoke is so toxic that studies at the University of California at Berkeley are now discovering even third-hand smoke, the residue on clothes, skin and hair, is toxic. The neonatal intensive-care unit at Mission Hospital doesn’t even allow smokers on the floor unless they have changed their clothes. Is this the kind of toxic downtown we want for our city?

Han Winogrond

About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

27 thoughts on “We could not escape smoking in downtown Asheville

  1. North Asheville

    The letter states, “There is simply no place downtown to avoid the class A carcinogens in cigarette smoke.” As a frequent visitor to downtown, I have not encountered many people smoking on the street (at least not during the day time, don’t walk past crowded bars at night). Are others having the problem this young couple is having of avoiding smoke on the streets?

    • Candler

      No. I am incredibly sensitive to cigarette smoke, and I very seldom have a problem downtown. Admittedly, sometimes I’ll be following someone and have to distance myself a bit, but big deal. I’ll cross the street or hang back a bit.

      I’m not about to demand that they not be allowed to smoke just to cater to me. The emissions from cars are every bit as dangerous as cigarette smoke, but I’d rather not ban them from Asheville.

      • Jim

        Kicking adults out on the street to smoke and then complaining about it is asinine. Treating adults like children even more so. Seems to me the letter writer should just wrap himself up in a space suit to avoid everything as his words make him out to be more OCD and paranoid than anything else. A downtown bar in a building that’s close to a 100 years old is not the same as the neonatal care unit at Mission. And comparing the two is stupid. If anything, you want to contain smokers so allow businesses after 10PM to decide on smoking themselves. Many will remain smoke free and that’s OK. At that point, they can even prohibit smoking on their property which should satisfy people like the writer. And smokers can have their own places to gather where non-smokers are making a choice as to whether to patronize them or not. Seems simple to me.

        • boatrocker

          Agreed- online high five Jim.

          There’s an old joke-

          How do you tell an ex smoker, ex meat eater, ex drinker, vegan, born again Christian, or gluten free type at a party?

          Don’t worry, they’ll find you and tell you.

          • I see what you did there!

            If any of those groups are advertising as such, it is because whatever they gave up is giving them benefits that they wish the world to know.

            So the real crux of the issue is the need to broadcast stuff about *me* to others that don’t want to hear, which is a common complaint about social skills – you know, when I am not willing to censor that stuff out of my conversation while out (meaning all the talk about *me* and *my* life ) I find it best to stay home – I enjoy myself much more that way and stay out of trouble, I’m sure you agree.

            In this way I am learning that I appreciate being alone – when I am tired of that alone time – then I have much more success in listening to others more while out.

  2. Althea

    Nope. If I want to avoid a smoker, I just cross the street…or deal with it for 3 seconds while I walk past. If I don’t want smoke coming into a restaurant, then I choose a restaurant in which that can’t happen. Pretty simple for people to figure out how to live together. It’s amazing that people get up in arms over tobacco, but are just fine sucking up the exhaust from the hundreds of cars clogging the downtown streets.

  3. Jim

    Wah, wah. If you people were pro choice instead of mindless sheep, you would’ve never allowed the owner of the shut down Hannah Flannigans to dictate to you the rules concerning smoking. While he complained to the state legislature and made absolutely sure that all businesses were included because he knew the 10PM cut off for the ban would’ve killed his business as he wanted to be smoke free, you would know exactly where to go and more important, where to spend your money had he just shut up. Oh and what’s more concerning is that at one time, Hannah Flannigan’s had a sanitation grade of C. Don’t know about you, but any owner that allows his establishment to garner that low of a grade shouldn’t be speaking for anyone concerning how they operate their establishments.

    So what has been accomplished with the ban? Nothing. So whine and complain because the streets are littered with butts. Put your little stickers on the windows complaining about it too. Oh and hold your breath while you’re at it. And by all means please, just shut up.

      • Jim

        Are you alluding to the original law? It had a 10PM cut off that allowed smoking . But the owner of Hannah Flannigans lobbied the legislature to make it 24/7 as he wanted to go smoke free and specifically mentioned that not banning it everywhere would take business and money away from him. That is was UNFAIR. An absentee owner that once allowed his own business to earn a sanitation grade C and if I recall, a 72 specifically dictated to the rest of the businesses in the state how to operate. And in the end, Hannah still closed. Again, what did he accomplish? Nothing.

        Pro choice means you spend your money where you want to. That’s what really accomplishes what you want because money talks. Not banning smoking everywhere and then complaining that people are smoking outside on the sidewalk. Or that they litter the streets with cigarette butts. Seems to me if this letter writer is being driven inside because smokers outnumber him outside, that he’s actually in the minority. But if he any sense, he’d realize that’s the outcome of making all businesses smoke free instead of allowing the FREEDOM OF CHOICE and these businesses to COMPETE for customers.

  4. dancing bear

    Han Winogrond, thank you for writing this article. This is exactly why myself and other families with kids have been avoiding the downtown areas around lexington. Everyone should have the freedom and right to breath fresh air in public areas without having to walk across the street to avoid smokers. We’ve also traveled to some of the cities you wrote about and businesses there are not only doing great, but thriving. I have no problem with people choosing to smoke as that is their right, but most smokers are not considerate of the people around them. Not the smokers who are reading this – they’re the kind ones who find a private place and respect others trying to breath fresh air.

    • slip dancer

      “most smokers are not considerate”. Have you traveled the world and met every single smoker? What a narrow minded, uneducated, prejudice comment. No, I don’t smoke. I just have a problem with generalizations built on zero factual evidence.

      • Jim

        People like these tools believe in rights as long as it conforms to their views. You have a right to avoid people and places that offend you. Not ban them because they do. But when weaklings and whiners are vocal, we end up with smoking bans in bars under the guise of protecting the children who happen to be 21 and over. Or moronic stickers on windows proclaiming Asheville is not an ashtray. Sure it is. You removed them from indoors where they actually served a purpose. And took the CHOICE of not only people, but the real insanity of it all, the OWNERS who for all intents and purposes should’ve never complied to begin with. And again, whiners like Hans are not about rights and freedom but conformity and control.

  5. Slappy Cat

    I am a nonsmoker and if it is bothering me, I just have the common sense to cross the road. I would much rather smell cigarettes than the fumes from a diesel truck, but I have no intention of asking that they be banned. Maybe the writer would be happier if he and his family moved to Boulder.

  6. mountain mama

    How come you didn’t fix your exhaust leak until it benefited you? Did you not care that you were polluting other people’s lives? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    • Dionysis

      Who had an exhaust leak? Slappy Cat wrote “…fumes from a diesel truck…”, not “my diesel truck.”

      • mountain mama

        I wasn’t replying to Slappy Cat. The gentleman who wrote the original comment, Han Winogrond said that he did not fix the exhaust leak in his car until he found out his wife was pregnant. Sorry, guess I should have stated that.

  7. Han

    I’m so glad that my letter sparked debate! I have to wonder who among those who disagree with protecting people, pregnant mothers and children from cyanide, arsenic and the rest are smokers? I also wonder about those who aren’t bothered by smoking downtown. Smoking addicts and reformed addicts have a highly compromised sense of smell. They are specifically insensitive to cigarette smoke.

    I believe strongly in the rights of individuals but within a republic we are tasked with finding a balance of individual freedom and the good of the whole. It’s difficult to find an argument that legitimizes the right of the few to burn toxins in the air of the many? Freedom of speech, freedom of the press even the right to bear arms are crucial to guaranteeing our freedoms within a democracy.

    Freedom to burn hydrogen cyanide, polonium 210 and lead in our public spaces in order to accommodate nicotine addicts does nothing to advance the public good. It is not a defensible “right”at all. It actually costs all of us money in health care costs from emphysema and all the other painful and horrible endings that smokers choose for themselves.

    I am not surprised that my op-ed was as unpopular as smoking is popular in Asheville. The comment asking me why I hadn’t fixed my exhaust makes an excellent point. Which is why we sometimes need laws to force individuals to do what is right for the good of all.

  8. “I believe strongly in the rights of individuals but within a republic we are tasked with finding a balance of individual freedom and the good of the whole.” your original letter contradicts that. It reads more no one should be allowed to smoke downtown. I am a smoker and I see more smokers downtown trying to be out of the way than in the main flow and I am willing to bet most the smokers that are not conscious of the people around them, in Asheville, are tourists. Heck I even have seen on many occasions local smokers picking up butts behind people who just throw them down.

  9. Danser Miroir


    I can tell you’re an educated person. That last comment was really well put.

    “Freedom to burn …. in our public spaces in order to accommodate nicotine addicts does nothing to advance the public good. It is not a defensible “right”at all. It actually costs all of us money in health care costs from emphysema and all the other painful and horrible endings that smokers choose for themselves. … The comment asking me why I hadn’t fixed my exhaust makes an excellent point. Which is why we sometimes need laws to force individuals to do what is right for the good of all.”

    People saying we have the right to cross the street to avoid cigarette smoke are not really getting it. We’re being forced to cross the street when we should have the right to breathe clean air in public. Smokers have every right to smoke, but not at the expense of everyone else’s health.

    Keep up the contributions!

  10. I get tired of the line about it costs us all money in health care costs. Using that logic we need to not allow people to eat or get health care since those are the other two big killers in America. I also think it is more about courtesy than rights. Smokers should have the courtesy to not smoke near non smokers and non smokers should have the courtesy to not push smokers into hidden areas.

  11. dsbxxxx

    Most people do not realize that in-establishment (restaurants, businesses, bars) smoking bans were enacted as much to protect the employees as much as the patrons. Constant exposure to second hand smoke while on the job (whether you work there “voluntarily” or not) constitutes a hazardous workplace, and businesses were being hit with disability claims from employees with emphysema, various cancers, and other smoking-related health issues. And the claim “you CHOSE to work in a hazardous environment when you took the job” just does not fly.

  12. Argus

    Funny thing about freedom is, we all need to tolerate the other person’s right to it, sometimes that might mean actually crossing the street to avoid cigarette smoke, or walking faster to put distance between you & the smoker. If you really care about what you’re breathing look up at what passes for clouds these days, that’s far more determental to everyone’s health.

  13. Non-Smoker

    Why should we have to smell smoke instead of clean air? I can’t walk downtown without smelling smoke, just like the Han. I avoid going to Downtown because of the cigarette smoke. It sucks. I had friends visit who said the same thing, and I didn’t even bring it up. They asked me why so many young people smoke?
    It is a carcinogen, and those of you who think that others should have to deal with it are crazy. If you want to smoke, find a designated area where smokers meet and are okay with taking in cancer-causing chemicals, and have a blast. My mother has stage 4 lung cancer from smoking, but she can’t believe it because, as she puts it, she only smoked one cigarette a day. It is f*cked up that I have to smell someone else’s cigarette smoke. Why should I have to cross the street to breathe clean air? I think the writer of this post is on point. Keep yourself clean and away from these carcinogens. I support your post. I feel you. Those of you who smoke, you’re going to regret it. I’m seeing, first-hand, what it does to people.

  14. Makayla

    I understand why you are concerned but if downtown is the problem then try going to places like the Asheville/outlets malls or just go to inside restaurants if you feel eager to be outside and enjoy fresh air try going to a park or just an open place where there aren’t a lot of people. Places that have lots of kids are probably the least amount of smoke you can get while being in public. Us smokers aren’t trying to give you second hand smoke at all. And we wouldn’t smoke around a bunch of kids on purpose… if downtown is the problem then the answer is simply to find interest in a different enjoyable location :)

  15. han winogrond

    Here’s an analogy that might help folks understand why exposing other people to secondhand smoke is not defensible. Let’s imagine there is a portion of the population that is addicted to a virus. It’s a reasonable comparison b.c. cigarette smoke kills more people than most viruses. So these folks feel it is their right to enjoy their virus. The problem is that when they use it in public other people are exposed to the virus. Their solution is that anyone who is bothered by this virus should go elsewhere because, freedom.

    I think people’s freedoms end at the point where they negatively affect others without any measurable benefit, unless you count trying to look cool and getting really sick as benefits? To ask people to avoid downtown Asheville, cross the street or move to another city so that you can continue to expose those around you to secondhand smoke, is asking a lot. And to what end?

    Smoking is not a right. It isn’t in the Constitution, it’s just a health problem, and one that should be limited to those who choose to make it their problem. Exposing others to toxins is not a defensible right or freedom, it’s just selfish. To those smokers who pretend they don’t want to expose others, who try to stand to the side, etc. It’s a nice thought but it’s not working. Smoke travels and the majority of people tolerate it because of some antiquated idea that people should be free to smoke. I challenge that idea. People’s right to travel freely is in the constitution, people’s right to breath clean air is self evident, people’s right to smoke in public, that’s just a minority of the population imposing their bad habits on people because it’s more convenient for them.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.