BUCKHANNON – For the second time since May, the Upshur County Board of Health has refrained from making a final ruling on the Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Act, allowing smoking to continue in fraternal organizations, bingo halls and certain sections of hotels and motels.
At its May meeting, the health department’s board of directors passed preliminary changes to the regulation and had been set for a final vote on the matter at its September meeting; however, lack of a quorum prevented it from doing so then. On Thursday evening,, the board unanimously voted to table the measure until November.
The proposed amendments to the act, if implemented, would mean smoking would no longer be allowed in retail stores that sell tobacco products; designated rooms of hotel-motels; bed-and-breakfasts; inns and cabins; private parties at fire halls; and “the conference or meeting rooms or public and private assembly rooms of hotels, motels and fraternal organizations while these places are being used for private functions,” according to a copy of the proposed amended Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Act.
Several individuals showed up to Thursday’s meeting at the health department to voice their opposition to the measure going into effect, while a couple members of the public spoke in support of it.
Angel Casto with Buckhannon Moose Lodge No. 598 argued that the Moose is a private, nonprofit organization and as such, should be permitted to allow smoking in its social quarters. Casto said the Moose has implemented the ban even though it hasn’t been made official yet, and as a result, has lost business.
“We’ve seen a drastic decline in revenue,” Casto said during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting. “Members are not coming in, raffles are not being sold and revenue is not being generated on a scale that would allow our lodge to keep its doors open or to support the community through financial means.”
Casto noted the Moose has donated about $319,307 to community organizations since 2007 and provided health board members with a list of those groups.
“From this amount, only $1,940 has been given away this quarter,” she said. “This is a direct result of the smoking ban.”
Mike McQueen, who identified himself as a paid member of the Moose, said the freedom to smoke is one of the freedoms that comes along with being a United States citizen.
“Eighty percent of the people in the Moose Lodge smoke,” McQueen said. “That’s why we go. It’s a place we can go to enjoy an adult beverage, smoke a cigarette if we like and have adult company. If you implement this bad, the doors will close, and we’ll just be another victim of the laws of the state.”
VFW Post 3663 commander Larry Brown said the VFW would also be forced to close its doors if the smoking ban was passed.
“If people are wanting to know why we can’t do military funerals anymore, I’ll tell them to contact the health department,” Brown said. Brown claimed a 2003 W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals ruling set a legal precedent exempting private organizations and bingo halls from no smoking regulations.
However, Christina Mickey with the Coalition for a Tobacco Free W.Va., claimed that precedent no longer stands.
“It’s been argued all across the nation that entities that charge a membership or set pre-determinations on how you gain access to their facility are exempt from certain rules, and repeatedly courts across the land have found … that just because you charge your customers to come in, that doesn’t exclude you from public health law,” Mickey said. “You are still regulated by the fire marshal inside the establishment, you are still regulated by every other entity.
“You are required to have a food service permit, and required to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act. You are also a place of employment… you have employees, and you are in charge of their health, and it’s your responsibility for their safety. So from that standard, you are not a private club even though many have decided that they are.”
Tim Higgins, a member of the Upshur County Tobacco Prevention Coalition, mentioned several statistics he got from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids at www.tobaccofreekids.org.
“Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murder and suicides combined,” Higgins claimed. “The annual health care costs of smoking are $1 billion, and $122.9 billion per year, that’s what they spend to tell us, to tell you, to smoke.”
Dr. Joseph Reed, health department medical director, also noted that of the 3,000 chemicals present in tobacco smoke, 70 are “known carcinogens.”
“One pack a day for 40 years costs 14 years of life and $80,000 in health care costs,” Reed said. “The health care costs are not $5.50 (the average price per pack, Reed said), but $35 a day per pack. I understand the concerns you all have. It’s not an easy decision for you people to quit smoking. Most people I have that are patients quit because their kids got after them.”
After hearing all comments, board member Larry Carpenter made a motion to table the amendments.
“I would like to look at all the information we’ve been presented,” Carpenter said. “I’ve been on this board since 2007. I know what the first board went through, and it was hell. We’re here for one reason – and one reason only. None of us are paid. We do this for you all, for your health, for the entire community’s health. I want to be fair, but you have to realize where we’re coming from. We are here to protect you all, and you’re not going to get a knee-jerk reaction from us tonight.”
Casto countered, “That’s a respectful and admirable thing, but when you’re talking about a private organization for people who elect to choose to pay dues and in to private quarters not open to the public, it’s different. If our members do not like the smoke, they do not have to come in. The back hall is open to the public, and there’s no smoking back there.”
In addition to Carpenter, chair of the health board, Charliena Eubank, and member Teresa Kee, were also present. Kee seconded Carpenter’s motion, which passed unanimously. The two board members who were absent due to family and work obligations are Michael Livesay and Amy Queen.
The next meeting of the health department’s board of directors is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2 at the health department.