MARTINSBURG, W.Va. – The Berkeley County Board of Health will decide Tuesday whether or not to adopt stricter indoor air regulations. It’s a controversial decision.
“It’s been a mixed reaction. We’re received over 150 e-mails and letters in the mail,” according to Health Department Administrator Bill Kearns. “The majority are in favor of the ordinance. (There’s been) lots of recommendations for some changes to the ordinance. A good many also recommended we keep the ordinance the way it is right now.”
Currently there are 650 permitted businesses within Berkeley County. Only 84 of those have chosen to allow smoking in their establishments. Butch Pennington owns three business in Berkeley County, the Palace Lounge, Penn Bar and Grill and the Big Apple Lounge. All of them are smoker friendly.
The bar owner said he’s concern about his bottom line if a 100 percent indoor smoking ban is put into place.
“I think it’s going to be a terrible thing for business simply because our customers with us now will migrate to Charles Town and in particular the Charles Town Races and Slots,” said Pennington.
His three locations are about 8-10 miles away from the casino. Pennington said he’s done some research into counties that have gone smoke-free. In Kanawha County, Mardi Gras Casino lost 32 percent of its business in 2008. Mineral County implemented a 100 percent indoor smoking ban in January. A Budweiser distributor, according to Pennington, told him his first quarter numbers were down 24 percent. The owner of the Blue Diamond in Mineral County said his revenue is down 28 percent. Pennington stressed his businesses can’t take that kind of hit.
“Our employees are afraid for their jobs and rightfully so. If I have a 30 percent reduction in business, somebody may be laid off or I may have to eliminate jobs,” explained Pennington.
Kearns said the Board of Health has a very challenging decision to make because they will take several factors into consideration.
“Our main concern is protecting public health. But certainly the decisions of the board are not to put anyone out of business,” according to Kearns.
The board has three choices. It could adopt a 100 percent clean indoor air policy, board members could make changes to the proposed regulations or they could table the issue and take no action.
Currently 24 West Virginia counties have comprehensive indoor smoking regulations. Pennington stressed he wouldn’t be as opposed to Berkeley County joining the ranks if it didn’t run off his customers.
“If this thing was statewide it might be a little more palatable.”
The five-member board of health will meet at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.