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Hearing set on smoking restrictions in Berkeley County

April 27, 2001

Hearing set on smoking restrictions in Berkeley County



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Placing restrictions on smoking in Berkeley County restaurants will be discussed at a public hearing to be held by the Berkeley County Board of Health in May.

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The hearing stems from a Health Department proposal for an ordinance requiring restaurants either to ban smoking or to set up separate smoking areas.

The Health Board, which oversees the Health Department and could impose such restrictions, agreed to hold the hearing before taking any action.

Berkeley County Commissioner and Health Board Member Bob Burkhart endorsed the idea of the hearing, but not necessarily the proposed ordinance, he said at the Thursday County Commission meeting.

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"I think it takes away many individual rights," Burkhart said. "I think if you don't want to be where people are smoking, don't go."

He said he expects the issue to draw considerable fire.

"It will be quite a controversial ordinance," he predicted. "It's about second-hand smoke. It's a big issue. It's a big health issue."

The health issue figures in the thinking of Martinsburg Mayor and Health Board member George Karos. A licensed pharmacist, he runs Patterson's Drug Store, which has a counter where food and beverages are served.

"One of the duties of the Health Department is to protect public health," Karos said. "Studies have shown without a doubt that secondary smoke causes ear infections in youngsters. And I think the data also shows that it affects adults."

Karos said he has wrestled with the issue in his business.

"I used to sell cigarettes," he said. "I thought about it and decided 'I'm in the health business' and decided not to sell them any more."

But Karos continued to permit smoking in the store, and that troubled him.

"It benefited me," he said. "People would come in every morning and have a Coke or coffee and a cigarette. Other people would tease the smokers," he said.

"I decided you had to weigh the health concerns and the profit and you say, 'The health concerns are more important.' And surprisingly, I didn't lose those customers. They went away for a while, but they're back."

As a business owner, he said he understands the concerns about regulation.

"I don't want to dictate to anybody," but many factors must be weighed, he said.

Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss sided with Burkhart.

"I see it as a private business decision," Strauss said. "If the Health Department is going to start regulating smoking, are they going to start regulating the fat grams in hamburgers?"

Officials with the Health Department were unavailable for comment Thursday.

Finishing touches are still be applied to the ordinance, Karos said.

Burkhart said among the issues to be addressed are an exemption from the regulation for bars and what to do about businesses that serve both food and alcohol.

-- The hearing will be held Wednesday, May 23, 7:30 p.m., on the second floor of the Berkeley County Courthouse at 100 W. King St.

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