Bills would allow WV counties to repeal smoking bans

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Bills would allow WV counties to repeal smoking bans

Postby Wilberforce » Wed Feb 24, 2016 9:39 am

Sunday, February 21, 2016
Bills would allow WV counties to repeal smoking bans
By Eric Eyre, Staff Writer

For the second consecutive year, Republican legislators are moving bills that would allow county commissions to revoke indoor smoking bans.

West Virginia lawmakers have county smoking bans in their crosshairs.

For the second consecutive year, Republican legislators are moving bills that would allow county commissions across the state to revoke clean indoor air regulations and other public health board rules.

“This legislation would effectively turn health issues into political issues,” said Jack Woodrum, a Summers County commissioner.

State lawmakers say they just want to hold county commissioners and health departments accountable — not necessarily wipe out smoking bans.

“If the county commissions appoint these health officials, then the county commissions should also be responsible for their actions,” said Delegate Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley. “Right now, it's like giving a kid the keys to the car and saying, 'Here you go.'”

At a public hearing in the House of Delegates chamber last week, more than a dozen people spoke against legislation (HB 4472) that would allow county commissions to nix health board rules, including clean indoor air ordinances.

Thirty-one of West Virginia's 55 counties have comprehensive smoking bans that cover restaurants, bars and gambling facilities.

West Virginia has the highest smoking rate among adults and pregnant women in the United States, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This legislation would be a huge step backward for West Virginia,” said Juliana Frederick, who heads the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network in West Virginia.

As written, the bill would allow counties to revoke any health regulation — and require the commission to approve any new rules.

“It sets a dangerous precedent when you have an elected body of non-medical individuals with the potential to veto or overrule or eliminate regulations related to clean water, quarantines, immunizations, food safety and clean indoor air,” said Dr. Dan Foster, president of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. “Leave public health to the public health experts.”

The bill's critics also warn that health boards need flexibility and sometimes must act swiftly to emergencies like disease outbreaks — well before county commissions would have time to vote to endorse the health agency's response.

“This is just clearly bad public policy,” said Chuck Johnson, a Charleston lawyer who specializes in health care matters. “There are unintended consequences. This bill should be soundly rejected.”

A similar (SB 284) bill in the Senate makes exceptions for public health emergencies to “control the spread of disease.”

Faircloth said people who allege the bill undermines a county's emergency response are trying to “exploit” the legislation.

“If there was a pandemic, I think everybody would be on the same page,” he said. “Our public health would be first and foremost.”

Delegate Michel Moffatt, R-Putnam, who attended last week's public hearing, said the bill should be expanded to require county commissions to review and approve policies of all commission-appointed boards.

“You don't want a fire board making their own rules and enforcing them,” Moffatt said. “There should be a double check.”

Nothing in the House or Senate bills requires county commissions to revoke smoking bans — only to review them.

“I would hope the county commissions would have enough backbone to say, 'This is what it is,'” Moffatt said.

Last week, the Senate Health Committee halted consideration of the Senate's bill that would allow county commissions to overrule health boards, after Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, led a “walkout” of Democratic senators from the meeting during a short recess.

On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to originate and discuss a third bill that could be used to remove county smoking bans, but legislative leaders scratched the proposal from the committee's agenda without explanation.

The casino and gambling parlor industries are backing the bills that would give county commissions the final say on smoking bans. They say clean indoor air regulations are bad for business.

Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino in Hancock County saw revenue drop by 20 percent after the county health board adopted a smoking ban last year, even though the casino built a $2 million outside “smoking pavilion” offering slots and table games.

Last year, state lawmakers advanced legislation to revoke smoking bans. After the legislation stalled, Republican legislators tried to save the measure by inserting its language into a bill that regulates fireworks. The bill later died during the last hours of the legislative session.

Reach Eric Eyre at, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

source ... oking-bans
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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