WELLSBURG, W.Va. — The Brooke County Board of Health unanimously agreed to ban smoking in public places beginning July 1.
The new regulation prohibits smoking in all public places, including restaurants, bars, gaming facilities, retail stores and outdoor public places such as parks, playgrounds and other youth recreational areas and golf courses, fairs and festivals.
Owners of businesses and buildings accessible to the public wanting to designate outdoor areas for smoking will be required to establish them at least 20 feet from the building’s entrance, exit or ventilation units.
Board members said the move will help to improve the overall health of the community.
Karen McClain, the health department’s administrator, said Brooke County has been ranked poorly among West Virginia counties for conditions supporting good health and the new clean indoor air policy is one way the board can improve such conditions.
The county’s current policy calls for restaurants and bars to designate 75 percent of their seating area as nonsmoking.
Rose Briggs said she and other board members feel a responsibility to protect the health of all citizens, particularly seniors and children, from harmful secondhand smoke.
“I feel it’s a good decision we made for our community,” she said.
In recent months the board heard from representatives of the Follansbee and Wellsburg American Legion posts and two local bars who said the ban will adversely affect their business.
Bill Haught, commander of the Follansbee American Legion Post, said revenue from the post helps it to send local teens to the Boys State leadership camp.
The Brooke County Commission asked the board to consider delaying implementing the policy until six months after a similar ban in Hancock County is implemented in July.
County Commissioners Tim Ennis and Jim Andreozzi said after hearing from concerned business owners in Brooke County, they wanted to see the ban’s impact in Hancock County first.
Board member Joe Ierise said, “We just felt a delay wouldn’t make us 100 percent certain whether it caused a loss to business.”
He said there are many who have avoided businesses that permit smoking and those establishments are likely to gain clientele when they become smoke-free.
Andreozzi said he hopes state legislators in their next session will be able to find a compromise over an overall ban.
“I really think a happy medium can be found. And if there’s not an economic impact, so be it,” he said.
But board members noted verbal or written opposition to the new policy was much less than when the board adopted its current policy in 2005.
On Monday it was presented 14 letters of comment – 10 from supporters of the ban and four against it.
Ierise said one of the letters opposing it asked why electronic cigarettes were included. He said there’s no proof the vapors from the alternative cigarettes are safe.
Board member Vicky Gallo said, “I think I heard from more people who supported this than not.”
Sylvia Taylor, the board’s chairman, agreed, saying, “I had a lot of people tell me they thought it was a good idea.”
Board member John Cunningham said the policy doesn’t infringe on smokers’ rights because they may smoke in their homes. He compared the ban to prohibiting cellular phone use in a medical facility because it can disrupt equipment.
Taylor said some smokers told her smoking shouldn’t be done around children, which health department officials said was the impetus for including parks in the ban.
Mike Bolen, a sanitarian for the health department, said Brooke County golf courses were included because they also are frequented by youth.
Bolen said the department will seek grants to help government entities and nonprofit groups purchase signs for such sites.
He added department staff will present talks to various groups to educate the public about the new policy.
Failure to comply with the policy could lead to a fine of $200 to $1,000.
McClain said compliance will be determined when inspections are done of businesses that serve food, but complaints must be filed for the health department to take action against smoking permitted in other public places.
A copy of the full policy can be viewed online at www.brookecountyhealthdepartment.com.