The Harrison County Board of Health voted unanimously Tuesday to change its policy on smoking indoors.
Board members decided to put the policy into effect on Sept. 4 instead of in 30 days.
"This will give ample time for businesses to comply if they need to do renovations," said board member Jim Smith.
Randy Moodispaugh, administrator for the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department, said his staff now must notify those affected by the regulation.
"There are currently 433 restaurants and bars plus nearly 3,000 businesses in Harrison County," said Moodispaugh. "We will be sending letters explaining the new policy to all businesses and restaurants as soon as the letters are printed."
Reaction to the new policy seemed mixed.
"It's another one of those health department things," said Claudene Cross, owner of The Ordinary restaurant and lounge in Clarksburg. "I believe the Health Department should concentrate on making chest and blood tests mandatory instead of being concerned over me lighting up a cigarette.
"I will comply with what the department tells me to do though," Cross said.
Darla McCann of Clarksburg is a smoker. She hopes that restaurants will be able to keep a smoking area.
Moodispaugh believes everything will fall into place. "Nothing happens overnight," he said.
He added that those with questions should call the health department and ask to speak with a sanitarian.
"We want the public to know that there is a regulation now, you will be fined and you need to start thinking what you are going to do," said Moodispaugh.
A task force that recommended the new policy said the health department should continue to educate the public and businesses. Health department members also should provide information on the installation of appropriate ventilation in restaurants, the task force said. And the health department should train sanitarians on how to conduct inspections for compliance and how to conduct the "Smoke Test," the task force said.
The health department currently has four state certified sanitarians schooled in environmental health who will be conducting the inspections.
In 1997, the board adopted the original policy of designating 75 percent seating in restaurants for non-smokers and 25 percent for smokers.
The Harrison County Medical Society Alliance and other groups such as the Harrison-Marion County Tobacco Prevention Coalition have worked to get the regulation changed.
The latest version was presented to the board in Tuesday's special meeting by Lewis Clark, lawyer for the board.
"I have responded to all concerns in regards to the language of the policy," said Clark. "I recommend the following changes: Bars in shopping malls not included, smoking shall not occur within 20 feet of any enclosed area and the penalty shall be not less than $50 and not more than $1,000, leaving it up to the discretion of the courts."
Staff writer Tina Canon can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.