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Morgan County smokers face tough rules

November 28, 1996

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - People who smoke in Morgan County will soon find fewer places to enjoy their habit if tough new rules take effect to ban smoking in public buildings, businesses and work places.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in the county courthouse.

The Eastern Panhandle Tobacco Control Coalition, a 2-year-old health education group, asked the health departments in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties last summer to pass regulations banning smoking in public buildings, said Barbara Orlando, project coordinator for the group.

Health department officials in Berkeley and Jefferson counties have not responded, but those in Morgan County drafted the proposed Morgan County Clean Indoor Air Regulation.

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Under West Virginia law, county health departments have the authority to pass such regulations, Orlando said.

If passed, the regulation would ban smoking in all enclosed public places, including grocery stores, public restrooms, retail stores, public meeting rooms, lobbies and waiting rooms in Morgan County.

Restaurants would have designated, ventilated smoking areas. Employers would have to provide smoke-free areas for non-smoking workers and employees would have the right to designate their work spaces as non-smoking areas, according to the proposal.

Private homes would not be affected provided they are not used as child care or health care facilities. Bars where alcohol is served, hotel and motel rooms and retail tobacco stores also would be exempt from the ban.

The health department would enforce the regulations. Violators would face up to 30 days in jail and fines of up to $200.

The proposal is being met with mixed reactions among county businesses.

"It's not fair," said Tari Hampe, owner of Tari's, a downtown Berkeley Springs restaurant. "Such a rule could really damage the county's tourism industry. The reason a lot of Marylanders come here is because they can smoke." Maryland law prohibits smoking in most public buildings.

"This is real discrimination when government can dictate to someone who owns a building what they can do with it," Hampe said. "It's our business if we want to let our customers smoke."

Hampe said there is no smoking in her restaurant, but she does allow it in her bar, which also serves food.

"I'm sure it's something the board of directors will be discussing at its meeting next week," said Beth Peters, executive director of the local chamber of commerce.

Sharon Durand, general manager of the 70-room Country Inn in Berkeley Springs, said the smoking ban would have little effect on her business.

"The majority of our clients prefer non-smoking areas. Smoking is allowed in only 15 percent of our rooms and the majority of our restaurant space is non-smoking. We would welcome the regulations," she said.

The same is true for Coolfont Recreation, a large resort west of Berkeley Springs that caters to more than 10,000 patrons a month, including diners, conference-goers and overnight and weekend guests, said spokeswoman Jane Wilkinson.

The only smoking area in the entire complex is in the bar in the main restaurant building, Wilkinson said.

Coolfont, known for its health spa facilities, runs week-long clinics that help patrons quit smoking, she said. The program has about a 60 percent success rate based on follow-up contacts, Wilkinson said.

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