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Tough law could snuff smoking at W.Va. shop

August 12, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Among businesses that could be affected by tougher restrictions on smoking in Berkeley County's public places and workplaces, King Street Coffee & Tobacco Emporium arguably tops the list.

While coffee is first in the shop's name at 320 W. King St. in Martinsburg, pipe tobacco and cigars have been owner Ed Trout's primary calling card for more than 16 years.

Tobacco shops are not exempt in the Berkeley County Health Department's existing "clean indoor air" regulations or the newly revised rules that are out for public comment.

The current regulation was adopted Sept. 15, 2001, by the Board of Health, but Trout received a special exemption for his business, County Health Department Administrator Bill Kearns confirmed.

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"The conditions of that special exemption are that I not have any paid employees, that I do not allow anyone under the age of 18 to enter the premises and that my primary business is retail sale of tobacco products (and I still meet) all of those conditions," Trout said Wednesday.

Trout said he has received no guarantee from the health department that his special exemption will remain in effect if the current clean air regulations are revised.

A rewritten draft of the regulations has been released for public comment and residents have 30 days to submit feedback in writing to the Health Department through the agency's Web site at www.bchealthdept.org or by mail or in person at the agency's offices. At least one public hearing, if not more, is expected to be scheduled in the coming weeks, officials have said.

While he was writing a letter to the Board of Health on Wednesday, Trout said he found that clean indoor air regulations in at least 23 West Virginia counties have a definition for tobacco shops and exempt them. Jefferson County, which is one of the counties that exempts tobacco shops, is not currently reviewing its regulations, according to Jefferson County Health Department administrator Amy B. Jones.

Without the exemption, Trout said he thinks a smoking ban on the business he's owned since 1992 would be a "severe detriment."

"It may take enough of my profits away to where I would really have to seriously consider whether it's worth continuing to put the time in to get the income out of it," Trout said.

"Not only is it a situation where a customer should be allowed to try a certain blend of pipe tobacco or to try a certain cigar to decide if they want to buy several ounces of that pipe tobacco or a box of those cigars. But yes, also I have several customers who come in and buy a cigar with the intent of sitting down and smoking the cigar," Trout said.

Trout said members of the Churchill Society, a club that he and more than a dozen other cigar smokers chartered last year, also hoped to be exempt.

"We're really hoping now that by being a private club, not having any employees and not providing any goods or services, that we don't come under the regulation of this ordinance," Trout said.

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