Update: Please note the Board of Health has changed the hearing date for the proposed revisions to the Indoor Clean Air Act Regulation. Written comments will now be accepted until Thursday, Sept. 14 at 4:30 p.m. at the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department. The oral comments will now be heard at the next board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. However, each speaker must pre-register no later than Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. by calling 304-472-2810.
BUCKHANNON — Local motel owners hope a proposed change to a county health department rule that would ban smoking in additional indoor areas goes up in flames.
On May 4, the Upshur County Board of Health voted to amend the Upshur County Clear Indoor Air Act, making changes that would bar smoking in retail stores that sell tobacco, hotels and motels, all places where bingo is played, fire halls and fraternal organizations — all places where indoor smoking is now permitted.
The change hasn’t been effectuated yet, and Upshur County Health Department administrator Linda Sanders says it won’t be until at least Sept. 7, when the board of directors will meet to hear public comments on the issue and make a final ruling.
Should the amendments pass, smoking will no longer be allowed in retail stores that sell tobacco products; rooms of designated hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, inns and cabins; “establishments where bingo is played”; private parties at fire halls; and “the conference or meeting rooms or public and private assembly rooms of hotels, motels and fraternal organization while these places are being used for private functions,” according to a copy of the amended Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Regulation.
Dr. Joseph Reed, medical director of the county health department, says the changes to the regulation will protect workers, improve residents’ health, help people cut costs and even improve business in some establishments.
But several hotel and motel managers said the changes could put a damper on their livelihoods.
Patty Cutright, manager of the Colonial Hotel-Motel on North Kanawha Street, rents two designated smoking rooms in the motel portion of her establishment.
“We have people in here every day that want smoking rooms,” Cutright said Wednesday. “You’ve got to have something for these people or they’re not going to stay. I don’t know where they’re going to go or where they’re going to stay. Probably what will happen is they’ll end up smoking anyway. They’re not going to not smoke just because there’s a sign on the door.”
“You can’t tell people not to do it if it’s something they want to do,” she added.
Cutright said the implementation of the new regulations could even make for more work for her housekeepers, since it’s more difficult to clean a room that’s been smoked in when prepping it for, say, someone who’s allergic to smoke.
“Some people are so sensitive that even if someone lights up a cigarette in the room, they can tell,” she said.
Sam Baxa agrees with Cutright’s stance.
Owner of the Baxa Hotel-Motel, also located on North Kanawha Street, Baxa maintains two smoking rooms out of the 30 he rents.
“This is not corporate America, and it never will be,” Baxa said Wednesday. “With the clientele that all of these motels deal with, it’s going to be a negative impact. I don’t smoke, I don’t want to be around it, but economically speaking, it’s pretty difficult to go with completely all non-smoking rooms and particularly in our region.”
“Take the wintertime,” Baxa continued. “People don’t want to stand out in zero-degree weather to smoke when they’ve paid $75 for a room. If we were in the southern states, it would be a little bit different.”
Centennial Hotel-Motel assistant manager Melinda Eddy said she would expect to see a drop in the number of guests who stay at the North Locust Street establishment. She also noted that smoking is part of the culture at the hotel-motel for guests and workers alike.
“Yes, I believe it would (hurt business levels),” Eddy said last week, “because we get a lot of smokers. And a lot of our workers smoke. It’s hard to tell someone they can’t smoke when they’re paying for a room and they request a smoking room.”
Cutright, Baxa and Eddy all said they weren’t aware of the proposed changes until The Record Delta contacted them — and neither were several officials associated with local fraternal organizations.
Scott Wilson, president of the Buckhannon Elks Lodge No. 1736, said he wanted to confer with members on the county health department board before giving a statement.
Donna Matthews, the secretary of the Elks Lodge, also declined to express an opinion on the changes.
“I can’t comment on something I don’t know about,” Matthews said.
However, Angel Casto, secretary of the Buckhannon Moose Lodge No. 598, said she doesn’t think the county’s revised rules would apply to the Moose. Noting that people play bingo at the Moose, Casto said, “The state looks at that differently. The state allows (smoking) when they’re playing bingo.”
W.Va. Code 47-20-28a does state, “Any bingo operator who distributes more than one hundred bingo sheets at any bingo occasion shall provide a smoking and nonsmoking section, if smoking is permitted.”
However, if the Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Regulation is successfully amended, smoking won’t be permitted in the county.
And why should it be, Reed wants to know? He offers plenty of reasons for why lighting up should be forbidden in previously protected sanctuaries.
“We need to protect the workers in these places because they have no control of the environment they work in,” Reed said in a recent interview. “Plus, it’s a health hazard to whoever is exposed to it, and it’s an expensive habit.”
“We know that West Virginia has a higher usage of tobacco and associated health problems that most other states,” Reed continued. “It’s our responsibility as the health department to do what we can to improve the health of the people.”
Tobacco contains at least 70 chemicals that are known carcinogens — cancer-causing agents — and tobacco smoke carries perhaps as many as 3,000 chemicals, Reed said.
Despite increased knowledge about the health risks associated with smoking or chewing tobacco, change will be tough for many people to accept, Reed recognizes.
“It will be difficult for some people’s emotions to accept,” Reed said, “but I also suspect people don’t go to some of these facilities that they normally would if [the facilities] were nonsmoking. [The change] will be gradual, and there will be some grumbling, I’m sure.”
What’s so challenging about quitting is not only the addiction to nicotine itself, but what Reed calls “the pacifier effect,” or the need to “do something with your mouth and your fingers.”
But there’s help for those who want to kick the habit, the doctor said, pointing to counseling available through the respiratory therapy program at St. Joseph’s Hospital as well as the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources’ quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-877-966-8784.
Reed cautions nonsmokers to be patient with smokers who are trying to quit, urging them to help smokers who want to kick the habit rather than criticizing them.
“Changing habits is the hardest thing in the world,” Reed said. “But people will notice if they can resist the urge for 15-20 minutes, they will get over the urge. Set a goal. Maybe start with 20 (cigarettes) a day, then go down to 18, then 16, then 14. Look for what works for you.”
The Upshur County Health Department will be receiving written comments on the proposed amendment through Thursday, Aug. 31 at 4:30 p.m. Comments may be mailed to: Administrator, 15 Locust Ave., Buckhannon, WV 26201. In addition, oral comments will be heard at 6 p.m. at the health board’s Sept. 7 meeting; each speaker must pre-register with the administrator no later 3 p.m. that day by calling 304-472-2810.