BUCKHANNON — Efforts to snuff out smoking in Upshur County were put on ice Thursday, when the Upshur County Board of Health meeting could not vote on the issue due to lack of a quorum.
The five-member board —which includes chairperson Charliena Eubank, Teresa Kee, Michael Livesay, Larry Carpenter and Amy Queen — had been set to vote on proposed amendments to the Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Act, which were approved preliminarily at the board’s May 4 meeting.
The 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 of 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.
Thursday’s 6 p.m. meeting at Stockert Youth Center was expected to determine whether the amendments would ultimately go into effect following a final vote. However, only two of the five board members — Eubank and Kee — were able to attend the meeting. Three members of the board must be present to constitute a quorum, which is required before the board can proceed with official business.
Eubank apologized to those in attendance.
“We have to have three people to have a quorum before we can even continue on with this agenda,” Eubank said, “and as you can see, there are only two of us here today. Teresa and I have been sick about this all day. It’s not fair to you guys. Everybody should have been here, but things happen in life, and all of them (Queen, Livesay and Carpenter), they have life things happening right now that they could not be here.”
A special meeting at which the vote will be held has been scheduled for Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, Eubank announced.
A lack of a quorum, however, didn’t stop the board from hearing public comments on the proposed amendments. While some who spoke urged the board to adopt the amendments, others warned businesses and organizations would be irreparably damaged by the changes.
Larry Brown, commander of the VFW Post 3663, referred to a 1993 W.Va. Supreme Court ruling that he claimed exempted bingo halls and fraternal organizations from a statewide smoking ban.
“So, you’re going to override the Supreme Court?” Brown questioned the board.
Dr. Joseph Reed, medical director of the health department, replied, “It’s my understanding that the decision about this is a matter of the local board of health.”
Brown said the VFW would no longer be able to function without the revenue the organization pulls in from smokers who play bingo there.
“If you pass this, we cannot have bingo with smoking, and you will not see this uniform anymore,” Brown said. “We cannot have funerals; we won’t have the money. You won’t see 2,000 flags out on the cemetery on Memorial Day because we won’t have money to buy them. Are you going to buy them? Is the health department going to buy them?”
Brown added the VFW designates a smoking and a nonsmoking room and has invested $5,000 in smoke eaters.
“We are the veterans of foreign wars,” he said. “We have fought our battles overseas, and I don’t see why we have to come back here and fight them here.”
Jill Cable, owner of the Centennial Hotel-Motel in Buckhannon, said the issue boiled down to basic human rights.
“I’m not a smoker, but I don’t like that we’re taking away everybody’s rights to choose,” Cable said. The Centennial Hotel-Motel designates 25 percent of its rooms as smoking, while the remaining 75 percent — as well as public places — are labeled nonsmoking.
“How far are we going to go with taking away human rights?” Cable wanted to know. “When are you going to tell me I can’t eat red meat? When are you going to tell me I can’t have any sugar? When are you going to tell me I can’t drink? There comes a time when you’ve got to let people have some freedoms.”
“You don’t own my business, and you’re not going to contribute money to keep my doors open, so I think I should be allowed to make decisions for my business,” Cable added.
Christina Mickey, a representative for the Coalition for a Tobacco Free West Virginia, said Brown was partially correct about the 1993 Supreme Court ruling exempting bingo halls from the smoking ban. However, since 2003, she said the state Supreme Court has been reluctant to intervene in the decisions of county health boards.
“There was a 2010 case in which the Harrison County Circuit Court agreed that there was never an attempt to preempt local boards of health from regulating bingo, so since that time, boards of health are regulating bingo again,” Mickey said.
Then, in 2012 in Berkeley County, a large bingo hall sued the board of health, but “the high court refused to step in, and at that point it was basically a signal and a strong indication that that old ruling had gone to the wayside,” Mickey said.
Lori Ulderich Harvey, executive director of the Upshur County Family Resource Network and chair of the Upshur County Tobacco Prevention Coalition, voiced support for the amended act.
“The UCTPC believes that keeping smoking out of all public places, places of business, etc. is a stop in the right direction,” Harvey said. “We stand behind the amendments to the Clean Indoor Air Act.”
“And on behalf of the FRN, we are concerned with the health and lifestyles of family and children in our county,” she continued. “Second-hand smoke affects everyone, but especially children. They’re especially vulnerable to experience lung infections, bronchitis and worsening of asthma.”
Representing the American Lung Association, member Tim Higgins cited a number of statistics linking tobacco use to poor health. Higgins claimed 440,000 people in the United States die annually due to tobacco use, while 4,400 deaths in West Virginia every year can be attributed to the same cause.
“Clean indoor air is essential to good health for all citizens in the county and businesses and their workers,” Higgins said.
Brown asked Higgins why he didn’t bring the statistics with him, to which Higgins replied, “You can look them up on cdc.gov or tobaccofreekids.org.”
Brown replied, “You should have it with you if you’re going to talk about it.”
Prior to the meeting adjourning, Reed distributed information about the West Virginia Tobacco Quit Line, which can be reached by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
According to a previous Record Delta article, the Buckhannon Elks Lodge No. 1736 and the Buckhannon Moose Lodge No. 598 have already barred smoking in indoor areas where it was previously permitted in anticipation of the amendments passing.