BUCKHANNON — Ahead of a county health department meeting on Thursday that will determine the fate of smoking in indoor areas where it’s currently allowed, two fraternal organizations have already banned people from lighting up in their respective facilities.
The Buckhannon Elks Lodge No. 1736 and Buckhannon Moose Lodge No. 598 no longer permit smoking in areas they previously did, officials from those organizations said Monday.
The fraternal organizations took action to put the kibosh on smoking within the last several weeks due to a preliminary May 4 vote by the Upshur County Health Department’s board of directors to amend the Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Act.
That vote approved proposed amendments to the act, which, 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 of meeting rooms or public and private assembly rooms of hotels, motels and fraternal organizations” — like the Elks and Moose Lodge — “while these places are being used for private functions,” according to a copy of the proposed amended Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Act.
But a final decision on the matter won’t be made until the board reconvenes at the health department, 15 N. Locust St., Thursday at 6 p.m. to hear public comments and come to a final decision on the issue.
To officially implement changes to the act, a majority of the members on the health board must vote in favor of them, Dr. Joseph Reed, health department medical director, said Monday. Health board members include chairperson Charliena Eubank, Larry Carpenter, Teresa Kee, Michael Livesay and Amy Queen.
So far, eight individuals have signed up to speak at the public hearing, according to health department sanitarian Chris Garrett, but anyone who attends is welcome to speak about the proposed amendments.
At its May 4 meeting, the board voted in 4-1 in favor of the changes, with only Livesay dissenting, Garrett said.
Reed said the proposed amendments will protect workers, improve residents’ health, help people cut costs and even improve business levels in some establishments.
But Donna Matthews, a member of the Elks House Committee, said the organization has already suffered financially since it’s banned smoking.
“The Elks Lodge has already stopped smoking,” Matthews said Monday. “We’ve had that in effect for the last two to three weeks.”
Matthews said the organization viewed the change as inevitable, despite the fact that a final ruling won’t be made until Thursday’s meeting.
“It was going to come sooner or later,” Matthews said. “We’ve lost business because of it, but it’ll be what it’ll be. We just went ahead and made the decision, and we’ll stand by it.”
A representative of the Moose Lodge, who declined to give her name, said the Moose had implemented a smoking ban Tuesday, Sept. 12.
“We were told we weren’t allowed (to permit smoking),” the representative said. “Last Tuesday was the first night they didn’t permit it.”
Larry Brown, commander of VFW Post No. 3663, plans to attend Thursday’s hearing to air his feelings in opposition to the change.
“I’m opposed to it,” Brown said Monday. “I mean, they’re taking every right in the world away from us.”
Reed urged anyone who is interested in the issue to attend Thursday’s meeting.
“I would simply encourage people to come and express their opinion — good, bad or indifferent,” Reed said. “They can tell us about any difficulties they’ve had with it and what they’ve tried to do. They can offer any suggestions they have; it’s an open forum. I think most of us know what the ideal is, but it’s can we make it a reality, that’s ultimately the question.”
Managers of several hotel-motels in Buckhannon —including the Baxa Hotel-Motel, Colonial Hotel-Motel and Centennial Hotel-Motel — said while the majority of their rooms are non-smoking, they’ve designated several rooms as smoking.
According to a previous The Record Delta article, several of those managers were concerned the smoking prohibition would have a detrimental effect on business levels.