Group: Tobacco policies cloudy

WHEELING – The American Lung Association gave West Virginia a failing grade in its latest “State of Tobacco Control” report released Wednesday.

The state overall received an F in areas such as funding for tobacco prevention and control programs; smoke-free air; cigarette taxes; and cessation coverage. Northern Panhandle counties’ grades are the same as in past reports – Ohio County, B; Brooke, C; Hancock, F; Marshall, B; Tyler, C; and Wetzel, C – because their policies have not changed.

Most local counties have some sort of smoking regulation. For example, Ohio County’s ban makes exceptions for video gambling parlors, bars with video gambling rooms and video gambling and table gambling areas at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack. And Marshall County’s smoking ban includes exceptions for bars. In Brooke County, establishments possessing a food permit must make 75 percent of their seating area smoke-free, while the remaining 25 percent can be used for smoking. And in Hancock County, certain percentages of public areas must be designated smoke-free.

Two local higher education institutions – West Virginia Northern Community College and West Liberty University – recently implemented tobacco bans that include outdoor areas of their campuses. Local hospitals, such as Wheeling Hospital and Ohio Valley Medical Center, started bans on outdoor smoking years ago.

“The B grade that was given to the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department … is fair, considering our current regulation on clean indoor air,” said county health department Administrator Howard Gamble. “In 2011 the health department made some proposed changes to the current clean indoor air regulation. The regulation was reviewed and discussed, by both the board of health and the public, and is currently a tabled agenda item.”

Deb Brown, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said tobacco costs West Virginia $1.7 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity.

“It’s time West Virginia removes Big Tobacco’s welcome mat, Brown said. “Leaders in Charleston must provide smokers with the support they need to quit and adequately fund programs that help keep our kids off tobacco.

She said it also causes an estimated 3,821 deaths in the state each year. Nationwide, that figure is 443,000.

She said that while the state reaps $231 million a year in tobacco-related revenue, it invests 28 percent of that money on prevention and cessation programs.

Brown said West Virginia needs to raise its cigarette tax, which is 55 cents per pack.

“We can no longer allow the Mountain State to be the tobacco industry’s playground,” Brown said. “It’s going to take a great deal of political will, but we are confident our elected officials are up to the challenge. Our kids and current smokers are depending on them for help.”