Buckhannon City Council passed an ordinance last week that would require city park patrons to nix traditional forms of nicotine, should it go into effect.
Ordinance 372, which passed unanimously on the first of two readings, prohibits smoking and the use of all other tobacco products in all city-owned parks and recreational facilities. The tobacco-free zone would also encompass the city's Stockert Youth Center, the Charles W. Gibson Memorial Library and "all areas where fairs and festivals are conducted, including but not limited to the annual West Virginia Strawberry Festival and Festival Fridays at Jawbone Park."
Violators of the ordinance would be charged with misdemeanors. According to the ordinance, within a 24-month period, first-time offenders would be fined $50, second-time offenders would be fined $100, third-time offenders would be fined $200 and fourth-time offenders would be fined $400.
Any fifth or subsequent offense within a 24-month period would warrant a $500 fine.
For the ban to take effect May 4, council members must approve the ordinance by a majority vote at their next meeting, slated for April 4.
Councilman Ron Pugh took issue with a section of the ordinance that outlaws electronic cigarettes. The ordinance specifies that smoking "includes the use of an electronic cigarette which creates a vapor, in any manner or form."
"An electronic cigarette is a device that is supposed to help a person cease smoking," Pugh remarked. "Do we really want to prevent something that, in a medical sense, is helping someone quit this disgusting habit?"
City Attorney Dave McCauley said children often imitate smoking behavior, regardless of what substance is actually inside a cigarette or similar device.
"The thinking is twofold," McCauley said. "First, naturally, we want to prevent secondhand smoke. Second, children mimick what they see, whether a person is smoking a cigarette with the most nicotine that you could have ever received or an electronic cigarette."
Pugh wasn't convinced.
"The only thing in an electronic cigarette is water vapor," he said. "I just have a feeling that banning an item intended to help someone cease smoking, if it's challenged, isn't going to stand up in court.
"We are trying to prohibit secondhand smoke, not secondhand water vapor from a harmless piece of plastic," Pugh continued.
McCauley said council could extract the ban against electronic cigarettes if it wanted to; however, the ordinance in its original form was passed after City Recorder Rich Clemens made a motion to approve it, which was seconded by Councilman Dave Thomas.
"My only concern about the whole thing is enforcement," Mayor Kenny Davidson said. "The enforcement part of it is going to be a bear."
"It might seem like you're looking at a jump, but revenues for the cemetery last year did not pay for mowing, much less anything else."
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