Official sees way around smoking ordinance

Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center has reported millions in lost revenue as a result of Kanawha County’s smoking ban, but one Nitro official says he thinks there might be a way around the ordinance.

Nitro councilman Craig Matthews said because the city lies in both Kanawha and Putnam counties, he believes Nitro can put itself under the Putnam County Health Department’s jurisdiction.

He said he’s reviewed West Virginia laws and thinks the idea is feasible.

Putnam has a much more lenient smoking ordinance than Kanawha County. Smoking is banned from all public places that allow patrons under 18 years old. Customers can smoke all they want if people under 18 aren’t allowed, freeing up bars and gambling facilities like Tri-State.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department rescinded its smoking ban exemption for bars and gambling facilities

in July 2008.

Matthews said city lawyers have informed him that county health boards have jurisdiction unless municipalities have their own boards.

He said if the Putnam health department would be willing to make arrangements with the city, Nitro could form its own department and then immediately merge it with the county’s.

But some county officials say a switch might not be possible.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said. “I’m not aware that that can be done.”

Putnam County Commissioner Joseph Haynes also has his doubts.

“To me, the racetrack is still in Kanawha County, and I’m not sure how that’d work,” he said.

Matthews, however, said the issue shouldn’t be that complicated.

“I don’t see how they can resist,” he said. “State law is very plain in saying this is legal to do. It’s in black and white.”

The Putnam County Commission, the Putnam County Health Department, and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources have to sign off on Nitro’s plans before a switch could take place.

Jackie Fleshman, administrator of the Putnam County Health Department, said Nitro officials have yet to approach her about the move.

“We know nothing about this,” Fleshman said. “They’ve never once contacted the health department to even ask if this was even feasible or if we would be willing to do it. We wouldn’t merge with them to begin with, because we wouldn’t have jurisdiction.”

Fleshman said the only way Nitro could fall under the Putnam County smoking ordinance is if the city was annexed into Putnam County.

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