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Jefferson County limits public smoking

July 12, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Those who want to smoke in Jefferson County restaurants soon will have to take their butts outside.

By a unanimous vote Friday afternoon, members of the Jefferson County Board of Health approved a Clean Indoor Air Regulation which prohibits smoking in public places, including restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores, shopping malls, bowling alleys and fire halls.

Smoking will be allowed at Charles Town Races & Slots. However, 10 percent of the track's slot machines must be in a nonsmoking area. Also, a ventilation system that exchanges the air six times an hour and 12 times an hour in areas in which food is served must be installed, said Board of Health Chairman Jim Hecker.

Jefferson County now joins Berkeley and Morgan counties, both of which passed smoking bans. In all three counties, smoking is allowed in bars.

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Berkeley County's ban took effect around two years ago, while Morgan County officials passed a ban last September. Businesses there have five years to come into compliance.

In Jefferson County, the ban is effective Sept. 1.

No members of the public attended the board's meeting, although some business owners submitted letters containing their opinions on the ban.

Danny Smith, owner of The Anvil Restaurant in Harpers Ferry, said he is concerned the racetrack is being given preferential treatment.

In Smith's restaurant, 130 of the 160 seats are in nonsmoking areas. Smoking is permitted in the bar and a separate area that houses five video lottery machines.

"If they're going to put everybody on a level playing field, fine," Smith said.

Customers who play Smith's slot machines have told him that if they cannot smoke they'll take their money to the track.

"How do you think that makes me feel? It's very unfair," he said.

Smith said he, his wife and their daughter are all nonsmokers.

"Please don't make me out to be somebody who's pro-smoking. I'm not," he said.

Fairness is all Smith said he wants.

After the board's meeting, Hecker addressed anticipated complaints like those expressed by Smith. Charles Town Races is not getting off scot-free, Hecker said. Installing the ventilation system will be costly, he said.

Also, Hecker said it would be "inaccurate and unjust" for anyone to suggest the regulation was crafted or passed in secret.

The purposes of the regulation were to ensure people could work in a smoke-free environment and to guarantee "that the indoor air environment of nonsmokers is as free as possible of chemicals resulting from tobacco usage," according to the nine-page written regulation. "It is recognized that the need to breathe smoke-free air is a priority over the individual's need to smoke."

For the most part, health officials hope the ban will be self-regulated.

First and second violations will be punished by warnings. A third validated violation will cause the business' food permit to be suspended for a week, while subsequent violations will lead to longer suspensions and legal action, according to the regulation.

Violations would consist of a business owner allowing patrons to smoke or a customer smoking with the knowledge it's prohibited.

Passing the smoking ban was one of Hecker's last duties as chairman of the health board. At the meeting he tendered his resignation, which is effective Aug. 1. Hecker, 76, said health problems are partly motivating his plans to move closer to his children in Maryland.

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