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The Niagara County Board of Health has drafted a restrictive smoking policy for the county and now is seeking input from county legislators before setting up a series of public hearings on the proposal.

Dr. Jean Wactawski-Wende, a board member and chairwoman of the special committee named to draft the proposal, said Thursday she already has had discussions with members of the County Legislature's Health Services Committee. She said one of the first hurdles to cross will be whether the policy will fall under the jurisdiction of the County Health Department or become a local law of the county.

The jurisdiction, she said, will mandate who enforces the code if and when it is adopted. If it becomes a local law, area police agencies would enforce it. If it is a health code it would have to be monitored by Health Department personnel.

The proposed code would restrict smoking in most public places including elevators, public transportation, public restrooms, retail stores, restaurants, bars and taverns, libraries, museums, sports arenas, convention halls, bingo halls, bowling alleys, health facilities, lobbies and hallways of apartment buildings, nursing homes and places of worship.

Also, the proposal says, "It shall be the responsibility of employers to provide a smoke-free workplace for all employees, but employers are not required to incur any expense to make structural or other physical modifications" to their places of employment.

"Smoking shall be prohibited in all enclosed facilities within a place of employment without exception," the draft says. The exception will be any enclosed room which can be classified as a "separate smoking room."

This means, Dr. Wactawski-Wende said, that bars or restaurants can erect or designate a separate room where smoking will be permitted. Owners and managers of premises where the restrictions are not being complied with can be cited for a violation that will be punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Barbara Brewer, president of the Board of Health, said that once the measure is ready for presentation to the public for its input, hearings will be held in the county's three cities and the Town of Newfane. But, Ms. Brewer noted, "this is just a starting point; there may be many changes before it is presented to the public."

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