WELLLSBURG, W.Va. — Members of the Wellsburg Moose Lodge told the Brooke County Commission Tuesday the county’s smoking ban has affected its membership and its ability to support causes benefiting youth.
Paul Fillinger, a member of the lodge, told the commission since they are no longer permitted to smoke there, a majority of members and other patrons have stayed away.
“With the smoking ban in Brooke County, we have had a significant drop in revenue. We afraid if this continues we will no longer be able to support all the worthy organizations we donate to, or continue with our scholarship program,” he said.
Fillinger said since the ban was implemented on July 1, revenue from the sale of food and drinks at the lodge has dropped $9,000 and money from video lottery machines has dropped by $1,782.
He said dues from members go primarily to state programs supported by Moose International the lodge is proud to support.
Fillinger said proceeds from such sales, and a small amount of revenue from the lodge’s video lottery machines not collected by the state, has allowed the lodge to award about $29,000 in college scholarships to local students since 2006 and make donations to many civic causes, including the Brooke County Salvation Army, Wellsburg Volunteer Fire Department, Wellsburg Baseball Association and Brooke Cubs wrestling program.
He added the lodge also provides its facilities at no cost to such groups as the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club and for blood drives held by the American Red Cross and fundraisers for various nonprofit groups.
Fillinger said the lodge has been 75 percent smoke-free for many years and has installed smoke-eaters to prevent the spread of cigarette smoke.
Fellow lodge member Charlie Dhyer said when families with children came to the lodge, they always sat in smoke-free areas. He said he believes a small number of people opposed to smoking influenced the policy.
In December 2014, the county’s board of health approved the ban on all indoor smoking except homes and in parks and golf courses, citing an effort to address poor health rankings for its citizens.
At the time the board received 14 letters of comment – four from opponents and 10 from supporters.
County Commissioners Tim Ennis and Jim Andreozzi noted they had asked the board to delay implementing the ban until six months after a similar one was in place in Hancock County so economic impact of that county’s ban could be determined.
County health officials said then that six months wouldn’t be long enough to measure an impact and implementing the ban simultaneously with Hancock would cause less confusion for businesses in Weirton, which is divided between the two counties.
Andreozzi said since the ban he’s heard informal complaints from owners of some small businesses, including video lottery casinos.
He said he doesn’t dispute statistics about the harmful effects of smoking but is concerned about the ban’s impact on businesses.
“If there’s a compromise we can reach that would satisfy everyone’s concerns about smoking, I wish we could look at that,” Andreozzi said.
He encouraged the public, including small business owners, to share their concerns with the commission, which meets at 10:30 a.m. each Tuesday at the Brooke County Courthouse.
The commission shared information presented by the lodge members with Mike Bolen, the health department’s administrator. Bolen said he would share it with the board of health at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the courthouse.
Following the meeting, Bolen said he’s received negative and positive feedback on the ban.
Asked about its impact on businesses, he said, “I really think it’s too early to tell.”
Compliance with the ban may be determined by county health officials inspecting businesses that serve food. But complaints must be filed for the health department to take action against smoking permitted in other public places.
Failure to comply could lead to a fine of $200 to $1,000.
Bolen said compliance with the ban has been good overall, and no businesses have outright refused to comply.
He said smoke-eaters have been found not to be effective, with carcinogens still present in the air.
Bolen acknowledged that prior to the ban, people could choose not to visit businesses that allowed smoking. But he said the ban protects people, such as employees and delivery people, who have no choice.
“We’re making this adjustment now to give our kids a better future,” he said, adding, “It’s not something we hope will help. There are places elsewhere in the U.S. that have shown it’s helped.”
(Scott can be contacted at [email protected])