Crowd rallies against anti-smoking proposal

September 17, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- More than 75 people rallied at the Martinsburg town square on Wednesday to air their opposition to the Berkeley County Board of Health's proposed tougher restrictions on smoking in public places and places of employment.

The rally at Queen and King streets capped a series of public protests organized by owners of bars and clubs in the last few weeks leading up to the Board of Health's meeting on Monday.

A draft of the county's revised clean indoor air regulations that proposes a ban on smoking in bars, clubs and most hotel rooms is expected to be discussed in Monday's meeting at the Berkeley County Courthouse. The draft also could be amended or the health board could elect not to take any action on it.

"It's going to hurt my business and me personally, it's going to hurt my rights," said John Tobin, owner of J&T's Bar & Grill off U.S. 11 near Inwood, W.Va.


Tobin said about 80 percent of his patrons smoke at his establishment, which has been operated by his family more than 50 years.

"Beer and cigarettes kind of go together," said Tobin after he and others who rallied at the square marched to the county's administration building at 400 W. Stephen Street.

Club and liquor store owner C.B. "Butch" Pennington, who has been a leading opponent of the regulation changes told those who rallied on Wednesday that he was confident of at least some success in their fight against a possible smoking ban.

"I think they have to listen to us ...," Pennington said.

Berkeley County Health Department Administrator Bill Kearns, who watched the protesters march past the county's administration building, said Wednesday that he had provided the Board of Health with suggestions about possible changes to the draft regulation proposed.

"I appreciate them wanting to exercise their rights," Kearns said.

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