Exemption granted for W.Va. smoking law
Despite a strict new anti-smoking ordinance in Berkeley County, smokers can continue to light up inside the King Street Coffee and Tobacco Emporium, the Berkeley County Health Board decided at a meeting Monday.
So far, the King Street specialty tobacco shop is the only business to be exempted from the new ordinance, in effect since Saturday, that bans smoking at virtually all businesses and indoor public buildings in the county.
Business owners and citizens squeezed into a small Berkeley County Health Department meeting room Monday to ask for exemptions to the county's strict new nonsmoking ordinance. The department's board of directors also agreed to consider exemptions for two other county tobacco shops, a bowling alley, and the General Motors plant in Martinsburg. The board will take those requests up at its next regular meeting on October 15.
The health board also voted to give Pikeside Bowl an emergency exemption from enforcement of the ordinance until the next meeting. Pikeside Bowl owner Frank Turner told the board the ordinance has been "devastating to us."
"Saturday night many people walked out" when they learned they couldn't smoke inside the bowling alley. Turner said he fears smoking bowlers will head to bowling alleys in neighboring counties and states where indoor smoking is less restricted.
Ed Trout, owner of the King Street Coffee and Tobacco Emporium, argued through his attorney that the new ordinance would put him out of business because the smokers who patronize his store often want to sample the pipe tobacco and special cigars he offers before buying them.
"By taking away the ability to sample products, you're taking away his ability to do business," attorney Mark Sutton said.
The board agreed to the exemption on the condition that Trout post a sign warning nonsmokers to enter at their own risk, and that he stop selling prepared coffee.
The board allowed him to continue providing coffee on a donation basis, to get around food service regulations. Trout must also post a sign prohibiting people under age 18 from entering - a sign Trout said he already has in his window.
At its October meeting, the board will consider exemptions for Smoking Briar of Inwood, W.Va., and Smoker Friendly in Martinsburg.
Smoking Briar owner Robert Bryner said that, without an exemption, the ordinance could put him out of business.
"If my people can't try the product, forget about it. I gotta get out of it," Bryner said.
Stanley Borkowski, who works at the General Motors Corp. Service Parts Operations plant, said the ordinance is unfair to smokers at the plant who have a union contract that allows them to smoke in designated areas.
"You're taking my rights away ... I find it discriminatory," Borkowski said.
The ordinance allows smoking in private homes, hotel and motel rooms, private meeting halls and bars - and no other buildings, until Monday's smoke shop exemption was granted. Businesses may set aside nonsmoking areas, 20 feet or more away with separate entrances, specifically for smokers, according to the ordinance.
Christina Mickey, a state-paid coordinator of anti-smoking ordinances in counties across West Virginia, worried that taking exemptions one at a time would weaken the ordinance.
"You're opening yourself up to continual interest-group opposition," Mickey told the board.
Many opponents of the law, including Trout, complained that a draft ordinance presented at a public hearing was changed before it was enacted. One of the changes was a deletion of an exemption for smoke shops, his attorney said.
Health board member and County Commissioner Robert Burkhart said he feared the board may have been hasty in adopting the ordinance without more consideration of opposing views and alternatives to outright bans inside buildings.
"I think we made a mistake, and a bad mistake," Burkhart said, referring to changes made to the ordinance after a draft was introduced at public hearing.