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Smoking ban faces opposition

July 07, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Dozens of people packed a Morgan County Board of Health meeting Monday night to protest a county ordinance that bans smoking in local restaurants starting Aug. 8.

Spilling out into the hallway and down the stairs outside the commission meeting room, the turnout represented only a small portion of county residents against the law, said Sandy McCarty, who presented a petition she claimed more than 300 people had signed.

The group - comprised of local business owners, their family members, employees, longtime patrons and supporters - was told the meeting was not official because Morgan County Commissioner Glen R. Stotler had to leave early to attend another meeting.

Many spoke anyway, criticizing both the ordinance and Stotler's early departure following a change in the group's speaking time made Monday afternoon supposedly to accommodate his other meeting.

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Their claims ranged from lost livelihood because of the ban to an unAmerican stripping of rights from certain groups of people.

The ordinance, passed by the Morgan County Board of Health last summer after several public meetings, phased in compliance in restaurants by allowing them to designate a smoking section of no more than 25 percent of the business until Aug. 8.

Bars, retail tobacco stores, fraternal organizations used for private functions, private homes not used for child care or health care, rented hotel and motel rooms and conference or meeting rooms are exempt from the smoking ban.

Barbara Perry, owner of the Southern Belle Truck Stop and Restaurant south of Berkeley Springs on U.S. 522, said the 75 percent-25 percent requirement is already hurting her business by forcing away customers she couldn't seat in the filled smoking section.

"I'd rather have my own choice to run my business like I want to. I'm the one that pays my taxes," said Perry, who said the county is going to hurt itself by cutting its tax base.

The law is also unfair because it exempts bars and private clubs from the ban, she said.

Kim Galliher, a waitress at the truck stop, said she's already feeling effects of the law because of the tight space for smokers and a resulting drop in potential tippers.

"I have two children at home I have to support," said Galliher, 33, of Largent, W.Va., who fears things will worsen once the full ban takes effect.

People should have the right to choose whether or not to allow smoking in their businesses since people have the right to choose not to patronize them, many argued.

"It's taking away things people fought and died for in the war - freedom of choice, free enterprise," said longtime truck stop customer Richard Kaufman, 53, of Berkeley Springs.

Bob Sprenkle, owner of Berkeley Spring Bowlerama on U.S. 522, proposed a compromise allowing smoking in businesses that invest in ventilation systems to accommodate it.

"It's better to spend money to keep both sides happy," Sprenkle said.

Board members Susan Bayliss and Nancy Largent listened to board members but said they were powerless to do anything without a quorum.

Bayliss said they would ask Stotler but couldn't promise a requested meeting with the full board before the ban goes into effect.

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