Buckhannon smoking ban effective today; smokers upset

Buckhannon Mayor Kenneth Davidson said he would request that city police officers not enforce the recently passed smoking ban during the West Virginia Strawberry Festival after four citizens aired their belated grievances Thursday regarding the ban that takes effect today.

As a result, parts of the recently passed smoking ban could be revised. Davidson said he supports the banning of smoking in public parks and recreation areas, but that the inclusion of festival locations and electronic cigarettes in the ordinance may have pushed the ban too far. The four speakers agree that the recently passed ban was too restrictive.

City officials heard those concerns of individuals who said they had not been aware the ban was even under consideration by the Buckhannon City Council. They said that not everyone reads a newspaper or watches the local television news.

“To say that we are going to receive a fine for simply lighting a cigarette that you are allowing us to purchase legally and charging us taxes for makes no sense whatsoever,” Christina Pickens of Buckhannon said.

Winston Moore of Buckhannon said the parks belong to entire community. “Taking all of our rights away ain’t right. You don’t like smokers, fine, then stay the h — away from us.”

Three females speakers submitted two petitions regarding the smoking ban, but Councilman Ron Pugh said neither petition was valid because petitions against the ordinance can only be signed by voting residents within Buckhannon. He also said legal petitions require that specific criteria is included.

One of the submitted petitions carried more than 1,000 signatures, but included signatures from residents of French Creek and Rock Cave. The other petition was conducted online and carried more than 450 signatures, some of which came from outside West Virginia. The petitioners said they encountered many people who were afraid to sign the petition.

Pickens said, “when the ordinance speaks of tobacco smoke being the cause of disease and harmful to a non-smoker, this I do agree with … when it comes to being indoors. When outdoors, the likelihood of my cigarette smoke causing harm to someone 5 feet away is impossible. The wind will carry the smoke away or dilute it to a level of being nonharmful. The fumes of our car exhaust will cause more harm outside than any cigarette can ever do.”

Pickens said she did not have an issue with having designated smoking areas at the affected locations.

“To ban it outside all together is not within my rights,” she said. “Our veterans fought for our country to remain free, and I stand here today fighting once again for my freedom, as my elders did before me, whether it be for nonsmokers or smokers. We all have rights. We are talking about being outside.”

The smoking ban applies to public parks and recreational areas within the corporate limits of Buckhannon and includes areas where festivals such as the West Virginia Strawberry Festival occur. It does not prevent a smoker from moving to an alternative location near the affected park to smoke. The ban also includes specially designated areas like Stockart Youth Center where children frequent.

Councilmen said some residents have called or contacted them in support of the ban, saying they may actually be able to attend the West Virginia Strawberry Festival this year. Some of these callers included residents who use oxygen and inhalers, and who often avoid situations where their breathing could become more difficult.

Two other women, Sierra Warner and Leanne Richard, spoke out against the inclusion of electronic cigarettes in the ordinance. They said “e-cigs” help smokers quit and are much healthier than a cigarette. The City Council will consider whether to remove that condition from the ordinance.

“Nobody tells you that you can’t go to Burger King and buy a burger and fries because you’re way too fat,” Richard said. To which Councilman John Waltz countered, “you can’t eat fries and make them go into other people’s mouths.”

Richard also argued that “we don’t have the right to infringe upon somebody else.”

Pickens said, “We all need to remember to respect one another and, most of all, this is America. Let us not forget our Declaration of Independence (states) that all men are created equal, and we all have rights. When any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is our right as the people to alter and abolish it and to institute new government.”

City attorney David McCauley said the City Council legally cannot stop the ban from becoming law today because a revision or change to the ordinance that had already passed would require a multiple reading process with a public hearing to amend. To Davidson’s intent to inform officers not to enforce the ban at the upcoming festival, McCauley said that was acceptable.