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BURNING ISSUE

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

Confusion about a proposed clean air regulation revision that would make most enclosed public places in Harrison County 100 percent smoke free has residents asking questions.

The Harrison-Clarksburg Board of Health recently postponed a public hearing on the proposed regulation so members can be better prepared for the hearing and have a clear understanding of how the regulation would be enforced, according to board president Mary Ann Iquinto.

According to the regulation, smoking will not be restricted in bars, private residences (unless used as a child care facility), hotel and motel rooms (unless designated as non-smoking rooms), tobacco retail stores and conference or meeting rooms of hotels, motels and fraternal organizations where the facilities are being used for private functions.

One point of confusion for residents and business owners focuses on restaurants containing bars. Is smoking allowed in the bar areas?

Yes, as long as certain measures are taken, according to board member Joyce Rabanal.

"We're not forbidding smoking as long as there is adequate ventilation and it passes a smoke test," she said. "We're looking at it from a health standpoint. We have a right to breathe clean air in these places."

A smoke test is "the visual detection of the movement of a column of smoke produced anywhere within the smoking area to the outside environment," according to the proposed amendment.

Appropriate ventilation is defined as "ventilation equipment sized and installed to produce sufficient negative air pressure to effectively move air from the smoking area to the outside as proven by a smoke test, and heating and cooling systems shall have no functioning return air ducts in the smoking area."

If the facilities in question don't have the proper ventilation systems, they would need to install them in order to comply, if the regulation is passed. That may be expensive, Rabanal said.

In Monongalia County, instead of installing the proper ventilation, many restaurants containing bars chose to instead go 100 percent smoke free, after the county adopted its clean indoor air regulation, according to Art Adams, Public Health program manager for the Monongalia County Health Department.

"Most of them in Mon County have chosen to go 100 percent and a few have chosen to install ventilation to meet the standards," Adams said.

Monongalia was the first county to adopt a clean indoor air regulation in 1992 and their policy allows for 80 percent of a public facility to be smoke free and 20 percent to be designated as smoking as long as the smoke test criteria is met, Adams said.

If the regulation is passed in Harrison County, the county can still say it is 100 percent smoke free even though restaurants with bars could continue to have those areas as a smoking section as long as they meet the criteria, said Keith Dalton, media director for the state Division of Health Promotion.

"We generally call a county 100 percent smoke free when you have 100 percent smoke free in restaurants that don't contain bars," Dalton said.

Four other counties in West Virginia -- Hampshire, Gilmer, Taylor and Upshur -- already have a 100 percent clean indoor air regulation, Dalton said.

Forty-three other counties have versions of clean indoor air policies with a certain percentage of the facilities designated as smoking and the other portion as non-smoking, he said.

Another issue the board is facing is how to enforce the regulation.

Each of the counties' boards of health control their counties' regulations, Dalton said. The state is not involved with enforcement.

Hampshire County approved their regulation in 1994 and it has worked well thus far, according to Hampshire County Sanitarian Jim Kinder. They have never had to take legal action against a violator, he said.

It would be the responsibility of the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department to enforce the regulation if it passes here.

Already in Harrison County some major restaurant chains have chosen to go smoke free on their own.

Burger King restaurant on Route 19 in Clarksburg opened their new store recently and are 100 percent smoke free, said Ord Delaney, local district manager of Burger King.

"We decided to go smoke free at this store because most of our customers prefer it," Delaney said.

The restaurant informs the public by posting signs at the door and also placing a no smoking sign on top of an ashtray inside the store.

Enforcement has also been no problem for them so far, Delaney said. When customers light up, management politely asks them to extinguish the cigarette, Delaney said.

"We choose to do this because the new dining room is more open than the ones in the older restaurants and we weren't able to accommodate both smokers and non smokers because of the way its laid out," Delaney said.

A date for the public hearing on clean indoor air regulation has not been set.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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