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Changes to clean-air rules considered

August 10, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Smoking in bars, and most hotel and motel rooms would no longer be allowed in Berkeley County, W.Va., if changes to clean-air rules being considered by the Berkeley County Board of Health are adopted.

The Board of Health voted on Monday to start a 30-day public comment period beginning today for the draft of proposed revisions to the Berkeley County Clean Air Regulation.

Public hearings on the regulation changes proposed have not yet been scheduled, but Berkeley County Health Department Administrator Bill Kearns said he hoped to be able to schedule more than one forum to receive comments from the community.

The proposed regulations will be posted on the agency's Web site, www.bchealthdept.org. Copies of the draft will be available at the agency's clinical services building off South Queen Street at 800 Emmett Rousch Drive and at Berkeley County's administrative office building at 400 W. Stephen St., Kearns said.

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The most substantial change proposed is the elimination of an exemption for "free-standing" bars, which are defined under the current rules as establishments that have 50 percent or greater total sales in alcoholic beverages, health department officials said.

Also, no more than 25 percent of hotel and motel rooms rented to guests would be exempt from the new regulation, and the smoking rooms allowed would have to be "contiguous." Smoke from these rooms "must not infiltrate into areas where smoking is prohibited," according to the draft regulations.

In the current ordinance, hotel and motel rooms rented to guests are completely exempt, as are hotel conference rooms and other places of assembly while being used for private functions.

The latter exemption also disappears in the draft regulations that are being considered.

Private residences would remain exempt and bingo operations that distribute more than 100 bingo cards or bingo sheets also would not be regulated in accordance with a 2003 West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision.

The county's current clean-air regulations were adopted in 2001.

Business owner C.B. "Butch" Pennington told the health board on Monday that he feared additional smoking regulations would result in a loss of revenue. He said the rules, if adopted, probably would cause some businesses in the county to close, and others to lay off employees or cut services.

"Right now we have a good, clean indoor-air regulation that gives people a choice," Pennington said. "They don't have to come to my club, they can go to Applebee's, they can go to Outback (Steakhouse). Let's keep that. I mean, we've heard no complaints, no one's complained."

"Myself and others have installed expensive air-filtration systems. What about us?, we're trying to set a good example. I'm a nonsmoker, but I'm frightened to death of that economic impact," Pennington said.

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