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Smoking ban shouldn't take five years

August 01, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

This week the Morgan County, W.Va., Board of Health decided to ban smoking in public places. The action is welcome protection for those who work in such establishments, but giving business owners five years to comply seems a little too lenient.

The unanimous vote approved an amendment to the county's Indoor Air Regulation, which previously allowed smoking in restaurants if the smoking section was separate from the smoking area.

Now it goes to Morgan County Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin, who will review it and make sure it will pass muster in the courts. Judges in Preston and Cabell counties have ruled previously that boards of health can enforce civil penalties, but not criminal ones.

The definitions McLaughlin will have to consider include those for free-standing bars and private clubs, which would be exempt under the amendment. In Berkeley County, a business can be judged a bar if more than 50 percent of its sales involve alcohol. The definition of "private club" is more difficult, but should involve an organization that has annual dues and restrictions on the admission of guests, particularly juveniles.

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Given those exemptions, giving restaurant owners five years to come into compliance seems excessive. We would hope most businesses wouldn't take that long, but those that do would be exposing their non-smoking employees to second-hand smoke for a long time.

When this ordinance was proposed in April by Dr. Donald z, Morgan County's health officer, some restaurant owners opposed it, saying the county should follow the state motto, "Mountaineers Are Always Free."

Freedom is a good thing, as long as one person's actions don't infringe on someone else's freedom. At this late date, there is no doubt that smoking is an unhealthy habit, and a contributing cause of heart disease, emphysema and lung cancer. Morgan County residents who eat and work in restaurants should be free to be healthy.

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