Cumberland Times-News

January 3, 2014

Mineral residents quiz lawmakers on smoking ban

Bill in works that would allow fraternal organizations to decide whether to allow patrons to light up

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— WILEY FORD, W.Va. — A majority of the residents who spoke during a legislative town hall meeting at the Wiley Ford Volunteer Fire Department on Thursday addressed concerns about the county health department’s ordinance that banned smoking countywide on Oct. 1.

Paul Dornsife, who is a member of Ridgeley American Legion Post 136, questioned if the health department should be responsible for reimbursing businesses that had to establish an outdoor smoking area per the ordinance. Businesses were given until Thursday to prepare their outdoor smoking areas.

“They were supposed to give us ‘No Smoking’ signs. It was to be enacted today and we have yet to receive ‘No Smoking’ signs from the health department,” said Dornsife.

Sen. Craig Blair said that there wasn’t anything in place that would make the health department reimburse the business for establishing outdoor smoking areas. The outdoor areas are required to be located 15 feet or more from any entrance, exit or ventilation units of any buildings or areas where smoking is prohibited, according to the regulations.

Ridgeley Mayor Lynn Carr said that when Rocky Gap Casino Resort opened, fraternal organizations lost 20 percent of their business and that they will probably lose an additional 20 percent due to the smoking ban.

“The veterans organizations, particularly the VFW and the American Legion Post in Ridgeley, have made substantial investments not only in the community but substantial investments in their buildings (to cut down on the effects of smoking),” said Carpendale Mayor Butch Armentrout.

The Ridgeley American Legion has smoke eaters and a separate area inside for smokers, according to Ray Shepherd, who is a member there.

Dornsife said that the health department is responsible for enforcing the ordinance and that the business owner wouldn’t be responsible for enforcing it.

Delegate Gary Howell said he thinks a health department official would have to see someone breaking the law in order to enforce the ordinance. Anyone who violates the regulation will be guilty of a misdemeanor under state code, according to the regulations.

Howell is working on a bill that would require a county commission to vote on any proposal by a county health department before it becomes an ordinance. Board of health members are appointed by county commissioners and the commission has no control over them.

“They shouldn’t be making this call,” said Blair.

Howell said that if the health department wanted to introduce an ordinance that bans any sodas over 12 ounces, like they tried to in New York, that it could be done.

“There is nothing stopping them, there is no elected official that can stand in their way,” said Howell. “You have got an unelected board acting as dictators with no legal oversight.”

Steve Miller, who belongs to the Fort Ashby Veterans of Foreign Wars, cautioned Howell to be careful when he writes the legislation, making sure that it doesn’t undermine the sanitation regulations that the health department has been enforcing for years. The bill would not do that, according to Howell.

“Here is what is going to happen — the health department is going to compare that scum on the dishes to smoke,” said Miller. “You just have to be careful with how you write that.”

Blair is working on legislation that would allow fraternal organizations to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking.

 “If the Democrat leadership won’t run that bill, I will attempt to discharge it on the floor,” said Blair, who noted he is a Republican.

Dornsife voiced his support of Blair’s legislation.

“I’m OK if our members of the Ridgeley Legion voted nonsmoking. I’m better with that than having a bunch of people that has never served their country dictating what’s going to go on in military organizations,” said Dornsife.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.