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Smoking ban gets hearing

June 12, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

The owner of a seafood restaurant in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., spoke out against a proposed smoking ban in Jefferson County Wednesday night, saying it is not fair that his restaurant would be prohibited from allowing smoking while it would be permissible at the Charles Town Races & Slots.

"I don't want to be discriminated against," Danny Smith, owner of The Anvil, told the Jefferson County Board of Health during a public hearing on the smoking ban held in the Jefferson County Planning Commission meeting room.

Like the race track, The Anvil has slot machines. But because The Anvil is a restaurant, smoking will be prohibited there under the proposed smoking ban.

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Jefferson County Health Department officials said the track will be allowed to permit smoking because tracks typically have a lot of patrons who smoke. The track will have to meet certain standards under the ban to allow smoking.

Smith said he only allows smoking in his bar and a gaming room where his slot machines are located. To protect nonsmokers from smoke in the restaurant, the bar and gaming area has a separate heating and cooling system, Smith said.

The rooms also are divided by walls.

Smith said he believes smoking should be allowed in bar areas of restaurants where separate rooms for smoking are provided.

"I am asking that everyone be placed on a level playing field. To allow smoking in a bar and not to allow smoking in a bar within a restaurant is not a level playing field," Smith said.

Bars are another area where smoking would be allowed under the ban.

Board of Health officials said they want to ban smoking in many enclosed public places to protect county residents from the dangers of second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, is a carcinogen and has no safe level of exposure, Board of Health members say.

Others argue there may be little effect on business. Or say business may increase at places that currently allow smoking because nonsmokers will begin to frequent them.

Peter Teichman, a Harpers Ferry physician who spoke in favor of the smoking ban, said businesses that allow smoking may face increased liability for exposing their employees to smoke.

Jim Hecker, chairman of the Board of Health, said he could not guarantee the proposed ban would be modified, but said he would listen to all the comments made at the hearing.

Health department officials said they began drafting a smoking ban after receiving inquiries about why Jefferson County has not passed any such regulations.

One reason is that similar laws in other counties have faced court challenges, officials said. County health officials said they wanted to review those cases and avoid the areas which had been challenged.

Under the proposal, smoking will be banned in all enclosed public places such as grocery and retail stores, restaurants, elevators, restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, patient rooms, waiting rooms, hospitals, clinics, shopping malls, sports arenas, bingo and fire halls, bowling alleys and child-care centers.

The ban would not apply to Charles Town Races & Slots, bars, specially designated smoking rooms in motels, retail tobacco stores and private homes.

Charles Town Races and Slots will be required to have at least 10 percent of its slot machines in a nonsmoking area, under the plan.

David Baltierra, a physician in Harpers Ferry, praised the proposed ban. Not only will it help nonsmokers, but it will help smokers who are trying to quit, he said. Baltierra said he has seen "people at death's door" because of smoking and said Jefferson County has a "horrible cardiac disease" rate that is among the highest he has ever seen.

The Board of Health is to discuss the ban Friday at 1 p.m. at the Jefferson County Health Department in Bardane, W.Va., Hecker said. The board may vote on the ban at that time or decide to hold a work session at another time, Hecker said.

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