Brooke considers smoke-free policy

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Board of Health is considering extending its smoke-free policy to include restaurants, bars and video lottery casinos.

Staff with the county’s health department met with the Brooke County Commission Tuesday to discuss the move, which will be discussed at a special meeting called by the health board for at 8 p.m. Monday.

Karen McClain, the health department’s administrator, said plans call for the meeting to be held in the commission’s meeting room at the county courthouse, but it could be moved to the courtroom if there are many attending.

Following the commission meeting, McClain said if the board agrees to move forward with a 100 percent smoke-free policy, it must accept verbal and written comment before implementing it. She said the length of the comment period hasn’t been determined.

McClain acknowledged the health board’s timing was inspired in part by the Hancock County health board’s decision to ban smoking in public places.

On Aug. 26 the Hancock County board unanimously agreed to ban smoking in all restaurants, gaming facilities, private clubs, sports arenas, places of employment and concert venues, as well as certain outdoor public places.

McClain noted the county’s previous policy was to require restaurants and bars designate at least 25 percent of their establishments as non-smoking. It’s opposite Brooke County’s current policy, which requires that 75 percent of restaurants and bars be smoke-free.

“For them to go 100 percent was phenomenal,” McClain said.

Hancock County’s new policy was adopted despite objections from some businesses and groups, including officials with Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, who said it would adversely affect business.

Brooke County has no racetracks but it has many limited video lottery casinos, where smoking currently is permitted.

McClain said there were no casinos when Brooke’s current policy was adopted in 2005 but because they hold liquor licenses, they must adhere to the 75 percent smoke-free requirement.

That percentage was adopted as a compromise when the Brooke health board in 2005 heard from owners of restaurants and bars who also argued prohibiting smoking would hurt business.

But McClain said times have changed since then, with non-smokers comprising 75 percent of the county’s population. Some restaurants also have voluntarily gone smoke-free since then, she noted.

McClain added Brooke is one of only a dozen West Virginia counties that haven’t gone smoke-free.

But she said it’s Brooke’s ranking in another category that has spurred the health board to revisit its smoking policy.

She said a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found Brooke ranked lowest among the state’s 55 counties for environmental factors that contribute to good health.

McClain said other factors besides smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke contribute to that rating “but this is one step in the right direction.”

In other business:

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson advised he’s granted a request from Micah Knisley to be reinstated as a sheriff’s deputy beginning Sept. 16. Jackson said Knisley, who resigned in June after serving the sheriff’s department for several years, meets state criteria required for reinstatement.

Jackson noted because Knisley already has completed the required training through the state police academy, he can immediately fill a vacancy in the sheriff’s department.

He said recent new recruits Patrick Graham and Kristen Richmond, the county’s first female sheriff’s deputy, will be training at the police academy for the next few months.

The commission approved the hiring of Donald Mount as a part-time employee of the county’s animal shelter.