Smoking Issue Tabled
NEW MARTINSVILLE – The Wetzel Tyler Board of Health will make a decision on its Clean Air Regulation 2016 at a later date, pending conversations with Wetzel and Tyler counties’ prosecuting attorneys.
A public meeting regarding the proposed regulation was held July 12 at New Martinsville’s municipal building.
According to the Clean Air Regulation of 2016, its purpose is to protect the public health and welfare by prohibiting smoking in public places, prohibit smoking in places of employment, recognize that where the need to breathe smoke-free air conflicts with the desire to smoke than the need to breathe smoke-free air shall have priority, to facilitate cessation by active smokers, and finally to discourage non-smokers from taking up the habit and thereby developing a nicotine addiction.
Under the new regulations, smoking would be prohibited in bars, privately owned clubs, gaming facilities, waiting areas, parks, pavilions, polling places, bingo operations, golf courses, fairs, and all outdoor property of health facilities, just to name a few. There are to be designated smoking areas set in place at a distance of 20 feet or more outside any entrance, exit, or ventilation units of any buildings or enclosed area where smoking is prohibited. This includes all HVAC systems. Also, it shall be the responsibility of employers to provide a smoke-free workplace for all employees, and smoking would be prohibited in all enclosed facilities within a place of employment.
The floor was given to the public so that they could voice their concerns. There were many opinions, both for and against the proposed bill. Many of the public members that were against the bill stated that the ban would affect their business and may cause some locations to go out of business, referring to other counties in the state where this has happened. Many also claimed that Veterans, who have served our country, have been previously given tobacco as rations and that they should have the right to smoke in a privately owned location. There were complaints that under the newly proposed ban many of the business patrons would be in the streets smoking, due to the 20 foot minimum distance from an entrance required. Many establishments in the area don’t have the kind of space to provide adequate health approved smoking locations.
Some compared the use of tobacco to car exhaust and even to local industrial plants, claiming that they give off similar carcinogens.
Administer of the Moose Lodge and non-smoker, Rich Earlewine, represents more than 1,400 Moose members.
“The power given to the health board is to regulate, not to legislate,” he said.
Erlewine argued that the state’s budget was just balanced by increasing tobacco tax by 65 cents a pack.
“That’s pretty hypocritical to try to stop smoking when you just balanced the budget due to a tax increase,” he said. “Video lottery is illegal unless it is owned and operated by the State of West Virginia. Therefore if the board infringes on smoking, it will infringe on state taxes.”
Erlewine went on to say that the Moose Lodge has donated $129,000 in scholarships and “just bought the state police 12 bullet proof vests.”
“We average $1,000 a month in donations to this community. Now that revenue comes from raffle accounts and video lottery machines. Without that, we will not have the funds to donate to this community,” he said.
Pamela Yeater also spoke in opposition to the regulation changes.
“I don’t smoke, I have never smoked. But I worry about our liberties that are taken away from us everyday,” she said. “Most of these places you can’t get in unless you’re 21. If you’re 21, you are an adult. You should be able to decide if you want to smoke or do not want to smoke.”
Yeater added that she has been to many of the local establishments that allow smoking.
“I had cancer; I got better. The cancer wasn’t because of the smoke,” she said. “There are a lot of health problems in this state from food, to bad water, to the chemicals that we don’t even know about. This is something that should be a private decision and it’s gonna kill businesses. It’s hard enough to make a living in this state the way it is. So as a non-smoker, as a person who doesn’t even like smoking, I think it’s more important to have liberty and to be able to make your own decisions and to get rid of this ‘nanny state’ where we all want to tell everyone else how to live.”
Jay Yeager claimed that the “smoking ban is gonna regulate small business right out of business.”
“Many of these clubs are private, and you decide who goes in and out,” he said. “No one is forcing you to go in. If you take away smoking you will cut revenue in half. Wetzel County doesn’t have to be like the rest of the counties of the state.”
Michael Benincasa also expressed his opinion on the bill.
“I live across the street from a gaming joint, and I went to the owner because my wife and I love playing machines. I asked, ‘Could you get one night a week with no smoking, so we can come over and play?’ One night he did it, until someone complained. Then they took it away,” Benincasa explained.
He added, “I think you have a great idea about your private club. I used to belong to the Elks. I don’t go anymore because I don’t like to eat food with cigarette smoke coming at me.”
Benincasa expressed concerns about the possible enforcement of the new regulations.
“I sit on my porch, and I watch violation after violation go by my house, pregnant women smoking, people with little kids in the car smoking,” he said. “I think the biggest problem is enforcement. Who’s gonna go out there and ticket these people. I really don’t care about your private club; I don’t have to go to them. If I go to a casino I sit in the non-smoking section. I’ve seen people die of lung cancer and it isn’t a pretty death.”
Taylor Fetty, a member of RAZE, stated that her group tears down the lies of tobacco.
“People believe tobacco isn’t harmful and that it can’t hurt you,” she said, adding that it can.
“I know the harmful effect of tobacco use because my mom, who is only 39-years-old, has used tobacco her entire life, and just had a heart attack. I’m almost 18, and I guarantee that I am too young to lose my mother of something this ugly.”
She continued, “I am from a family of veterans, and I know that those men fought, and some died, so that I could live a happy healthy life here in my country, not destroyed by the bad decisions of other people.”
Annie Fox also spoke in support of the bill.
“Many people that oppose it say that if you don’t like cigarette smoke, you can simply avoid it; you can stay home. Maybe that is a logical assumption. If you don’t like something, you can avoid it but you shouldn’t have to stay home to avoid something that’s going to hurt you,” she said.
She added, “You should be able to go out into your community and not worry about the risks to your health. Some businesses have reserved smoking are so that people can still be in the business and not have to deal with the secondhand smoke, but that is not a safe solution because oxygen travels. We don’t all live in a little bubble as much as we might like to think that we do.”
She went on, “If someone is smoking across the room, I may not be breathing in exactly what they are putting out, but I’m still getting the effects clear over here. It’s no different than having a designated peeing area in a pool. That sounds ridiculous but it’s really the same thing, so I’m in favor of this ordinance.”
Liz Hartman also spoke out on the regulation:
“I’m a 15 year cancer survivor. I work with the Wetzel County Cancer Coalition, and Wetzel/Tyler Tobacco Prevention Coalition,” she said. “In our homes, we have lots of poisonous things. There isno doubt about that, and if we take them we know we are gonna die. A smoker with a pack of cigarettes doesn’t just affect himself, he affects everyone around him.”
Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught then took the floor, asking the board to meet with himself, along with Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee, prior to acting on the ordinance.
“If you pass it, given the fact that you have imposed criminal violation for something that is otherwise lawful, then think about the resources that will have to be diverted from important matters – such as interdiction of Heroin – to enforce the smoking ban,” Haught said.
“I like very much what this woman (Yeater) said about freedom,” he added. “We do not live in a ‘nanny state;’ we live in a free country, a free society, and just because we have the power to impose and ordinance does not mean that we should do it.”
“What you would like is for everyone to stop smoking, and I would like that too; I think we would all be healthier. But I would never support a law that prohibited people from exercising something that is otherwise lawful,” he said, adding, “So I would very much appreciate the opportunity to sit down with you privately before you act on it.”
Board member Brent Gamble ended the meeting, after stating, “The issue is secondhand smoke, even vaping- vaping is part of this – we would regulate because it has nicotine in it.”
He added, “The other thing, and more importantly, is contributory negligence. It doesn’t exist in West Virginia at all, and what that is, is if someone were to enter a bar and say, ‘I’ve been coming to this bar regularly for 25 years and don’t smoke, but the doctors say I have developed lung cancer.’ Then the next words out of their mouth is ‘my lawyer says.'”