Smoking ban set for discussion

NEW CUMBERLAND – Although the smoke has temporarily cleared in Hancock County’s debate over a draft Clean Air Regulation, the issue of secondhand smoke is once again on the health board’s agenda.

The board’s next regular meeting, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. July 8 at the New Cumberland Municipal Building, will take up the proposed countywide smoking ban, amendments to the working draft and possible adoption of the policy.

The five-member board first must approve the policy for public comment and then, after a 30-day written comment period and a public hearing, vote on final adoption.

The draft regulation, which strengthens a more permissive 1999 policy, would ban smoking in all restaurants, gaming facilities, private clubs, sports arenas, places of employment and concert venues, as well as certain outdoor public places. If the policy is adopted, Hancock County would join 28 other West Virginia counties that have banned smoking in public places and places of employment, according to the American Lung Association.

Even though a majority of Hancock County residents are nonsmokers, the health board proposal has generated opposition on the part of veterans’ groups, limited video lottery operators and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.

Members of a coalition calling itself say the smoking ban would have the unintended consequence of hurting Hancock County’s tourist economy by driving out-of-state smokers away from bars, clubs, video lottery parlors and Mountaineer.

Health board meetings in April and May turned into public hearings on the issue, with people lining on both sides and airing their views. On the day of the health board’s May meeting, Berkeley County in the Eastern Panhandle became the latest West Virginia county to adopt a stricter indoor smoking ban.

According to the American Lung Association, 28 West Virginia counties have “100 percent enclosed workplace protection,” which it defines as the prohibition of smoking in all nonhospitality workplaces, restaurants, bars, gaming facilities and vehicles used as a place of employment.

“We’re certainly hoping a draft will be approved (in Hancock County), and the more comprehensive the better,” said Linda Holmstrand, regional tobacco prevention coordinator for the American Lung Association in Wheeling.

At their May meeting, Hancock County health board members indicated a willingness to consider revisions to the current draft, including the provisions having to do with outdoor smoking.

The draft proposal currently under review by the board would ban smoking in all restaurants, bars, gaming facilities, private clubs, hotels, motels, restaurants, bingo operations, fire department facilities, retail stores, tobacco businesses, concert venues, sports arenas, bowling lanes and other enclosed public places.

It also would ban smoking in public parks, including pavilions, playgrounds, golf courses, fairs, festivals, outdoor service lines, outdoor serving areas of restaurants and other outdoor public places. All places of employment would be covered by the regulation.

Any designated outdoor smoking areas would have to be at least 20 feet from an entrance, exit or ventilation unit, according to the policy. No-smoking signs would have to be posted in all areas covered by the policy.

The regulation would not apply to private residences, including individual apartments or housing units that are part of a multi-unit apartment building, according to the policy.

The regulation gives the health department enforcement powers, including the authority to inspect for compliance, take complaints and file charges. Violation of the regulation would be considered a misdemeanor punishable by a monetary fine.