Board of Health not in agreement if smoking indoors should be permitted

Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 12:05 AM EST
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PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The Putnam County Health Board on Tuesday night debated a revised version of the Clean Indoor Air Regulation.

The current regulation, which was last updated in 2007, allows for smoking indoors at public establishments so long as there is a “warning statement” on all doors, and the establishment prohibits anyone 17 or younger to enter the business.

On Tuesday night, the board reviewed a drafted proposal of the new act, which would eliminate smoking indoors at establishments. The draft came from other counties that have adopted the elimination of smoking regulation.

“As we got back some public comment, then we looked at how stringent did we want to be and still provide safety for the community in whatever manner we could,” Cindy Farley, chairwoman of the board, told WSAZ. “We feel like this is a way for us to provide safety for the folks in the community, but put some responsibility and authority on business owners to be able to manage their own business.”

During the meeting, two representatives of businesses that allow smoking indoors spoke, as well as a representative from the Putnam County Wellness Coalition.

“I believe that business owners in Putnam County should decide whether smoking is allowed in their business or not. No government entity at any level should be able to dictate to a business owner how to run their business as long as the business isn’t guilty of any illegal activities,” said Patrick Lucas, owner of Almost Havana Cigar Lounge. “Smoking is a legal activity.”

“Despite the additional harms of a pandemic-causing virus, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death each year,” said Evan Young with the Putnam Wellness Coalition. “Adopting a 100% smoke free work and public places sends a positive message to the community that health and safety are the priority.”

After the public comment period, all three board members: Farley, Andy Skidmore and Dave Rossi came to an agreement that business owners should have the choice about whether to allow smoking. Therefore, the board revised their original 2007 version of the act to increase the age of 18 to 21, when it comes to allowing people inside smoking establishments, and adding e-cigarettes or vapes to the act.

“The first draft was very specific about no smoking anywhere in the county, so if we’re going to back off a little bit on that, and go back to the old (version) with just some changes, then we have to go back to (public comment),” Farley told WSAZ. “Because, now there may be people who really are against smoking in this county, who didn’t say anything, because it was taken care of in the (first draft we put out).”

Health Officer Dr. Michael Robie told board members during the meeting that politics should not play a role and he disagreed with not implementing a smoking regulation.

“I think in a day in age when we’re trying to promote health, we have COVID going rapid, that affects the lungs, the last thing we want to do is not make an impact on the second hand smoke and the exposures of the workers in these facilities that really don’t have a choice,” Robie said. “Majority of counties in West Virginia have a very high rating with the American Lung Association, unfortunately Putnam County has an ‘F’ rating.”

Farley said they want to do the “will of the people.” WSAZ asked Farley how does one strike the balance between the will of the people and the health safety of the community:

“It’s hard and I think you do have to look at that from both angles, and also say that people who have the authority to make those decisions in a business also have the responsibility for their business and taking care of it,” he said.

“These types of decisions for the Clean Air Act unfortunately seem to feed off the politicization of COVID, and other health issues,” Robie told WSAZ. “Whether it’s masking in schools, or those type of issues continue to seem to get more left and right, so there’s no center ground anymore. Unfortunately, sometimes the health of our communities are put aside for different reasons.”

The latest version of the act will be posted on the Putnam County Health Department’s website by the end of the week, according to board members. They said the public can comment once it’s uploaded to the site.

The public will have 30 days to leave comments.

Robie said he is going to do his best to continue to educate the board on the topic. He does not get a vote on the final decision.

The next board meeting is Feb. 22, when the board could make a final vote on the regulation.

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