Vote On Newly Proposed Clean Air Bill Postponed
There was a regularly scheduled Wetzel-Tyler Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25. The main topic of discussion was the newly proposed clean air bill. There were many concerned citizens there to express their opinion either for or against the proposed bill. Anyone speaking at the meeting had to first sign a list and be called, by order, with a five minute limit for discussion. The board would not answer any questions.
Upon taking the floor, many small business owners pleaded their cases as to how the clean air ban would damage their businesses, forcing them to close. Some of these privately owned businesses have been established as long as 50 years, and owners fear the worst. There were many in attendance that spoke of the poor air quality of the Ohio Valley – and the chemicals that are being released, arguing that these chemicals are just as likely to kill a person as smoking.
From a business perspective, these private owners feel that they should be able to regulate what happens inside of their own establishment and that people do not have to enter if they do not want to. One person even suggested putting a sign on the doors, notifying people that it is a smoking establishment.
“Why doesn’t a small business owner have the right to control their own business? After all, they are the ones who have the money invested in in,” one person in attendance asked.
“You are not to legislate laws, and furthermore, smoking is not illegal” declared Rich Erlewine of the Moose Lodge. “You’ve got bigger issues to deal with in these counties than smoking.”
He went on by stating that the budget was just balanced due to tobacco and that businesses had plummeted in the counties where this bill has been introduced.
When the board was asked if they had met with Wetzel County Prosecutor Tim Haught about the topic they replied “no.” Nor had they spoken with Tyler County Prosecutor Luke Furbee. Board members stated that they have made attempts to reach them both.
Many were upset because they felt that the meeting had not been prominently posted and felt that the health board was trying to hide the meeting. The board said this was not the case. (Editor’s Note: Smoking ban meetings will be listed under “Coming Events” in the newspaper.) The next board of health meeting is posted for Jan. 10; however, the board members will try to have a public meeting with the both prosecuting attorneys before that date.
There were also citizens in full support of the clean air bill such as Marilyn Thomas, of the Wetzel County Cancer Coalition. She stated many of the harmful effects of cigarettes and noted that she is worried for the sake of the kids of the community.
“The new generation deserves clean air”, she exclaimed.
Thomas then asked Board Member Larry Lemon if he planned on voting. “You have a donation from an organization who is against this; I think you should exclude yourself.” Thomas claimed. “I don’t think you have the right to vote.”
Christina Mickie, Regional Tobacco Prevention Coordinator, had a pamphlet full of information that she shared with the board members, as well as the audience.
“West Virginia adopted it’s first clean air regulation in 1992… 33 counties in West Virginia have an identical regulation that is being proposed here today.” Mickie continued, “This is about safe air for everyone in places of public commerce – These facilities that people have brought up today as being private… they’re truly not private. They are places of employment that are regulated by the Fire Marshall and Health Department in regards to food and water.”
When asked if he had any comment, Larry Lemon replied, “I feel very sympathetic toward you all, and I have very mixed feelings about this.”
Lemon later made a statement to better explain himself:
“I support what we have done already with current regulations, and that is to limit. I feel that this proposal greatly expands and is overly broad. I do not question the sincerity of those who are promoting it because they feel strongly and I sympathize with them that any smoking of any kind is harmful. I can’t argue with that… it is.”
Lemon went on, “Now the question is, do you enforce self-regulations in fraternal clubs and businesses? I personally feel what’s being attempted in this new regulation, is to prohibit the act of smoking, not merely limit. So therefore prohibiting, what means to me, is to outlaw. I’m all in agreement to limit. I feel that this proposal is overly broad and prohibits it entirely.”
“I do not argue with the fact that smoking is harmful and it is deadly, and I really sympathize and fear for the small-business person. I don’t know if it will put them out of business, but it very well may, and given our limited economic circumstances in our area, I will try to limit my ability to cause more harm on them.”
“To the accusation that my son took a donation from the Moose Lodge 15 years ago disqualifies me, which infers that my integrity has been called into question, I sincerely disagree. I do not believe that has impaired my ability to objectively judge this question brought before me.”
He ended with, “I would like to work with small businesses to find a way around this problem, but after this proposal, that’s not possible so I seek accommodation – let’s work together instead of forcing the issue”.
Board member Eric Peters gave his statement to the crowd:
“I’m most sympathetic to the plight of businesses. I am not convinced one way or the other that a fraternal organization is going to go out of business because this regulation. I am more concerned about investigating what has happened to the other 33 counties where this ordinance has been put on the books.”
He continued by questioning how enforcement would be mandated. He also mentioned, “Last time I checked, Tyler and Wetzel Counties have the highest level of adult smoking in the state, and we are the state with the highest level of adult smoking in the country.”
Peters finished by affirming that there needs to me more investigating done on the matter and that the board should review the effects of the other 33 counties. He later added, “We’ve been given a legal responsibility, if there is any legal recourse – it’s with our state legislatures. We’ve been given the dirty work.”
Newest Board Member Tom Cooper added, “We aren’t trying to push anything… I would like to hear suggestions on what to do to correct this… None of us are against you. There is an issue of health and that’s what this is all about – public health.”
Board of Health Chairman Brent Gamble announced that , “Nine out of 10 presentations of lung cancer are smoking related that doesn’t mean the person smoked; it’s smoking related. The biggest thing is second hand smoke.”
He continued, “You’re under the illusion that you have some sort of protection from the law from people that claim that they got cancer from second hand smoking and your institution is the cause, and you don’t.”
The meeting ended with the passing of a motion to postpone the vote until Board of Health members can hold a public meeting with both Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught as well as Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee. The date will be published under upcoming events, in the county papers, at a later time.