Ohio County expands smoking ban, casino still exempt

WHEELING, W.Va. — The Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health voted Tuesday to ban smoking in hotels, motels and at outdoor public places throughout the county effective March 1.

The six-member board approved a motion by a 4-2 vote to adopt a revised version of existing clean air regulations. Voting in favor of the expanded ban were board chairman Dr. John Holloway, vice chair Cheryl Wonderly and members Michael Caruso and Thomas Tuttle, with board members Wilkes Kinney and Gloria Delbrugge voting against.

Prior to that vote, an amendment by Kinney to reject the revisions and revert to the original 2005 regulations was defeated, with only Kinney and Delbrugge voting in favor of that motion.

Under the new regulations, smoking will be prohibited in hotels, motels and at outdoor public places. The use of electronic cigarettes and vaporizing devices also will be banned in public. However, the new rules will still allow smoking on the gambling floor at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and in other establishments’ designated video lottery rooms.

The new regulations continue the existing ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other indoor public venues in the county. Those rules, enacted in 2005, permit smoking in the casino area and in video lottery rooms.

A small number of supporters and opponents of the measure attended the meeting, but no one from the public offered any comment during the session.

During an Oct. 29 special public meeting, two event organizers suggested designated smoking areas be established for ticketed, gated events at Wheeling’s Heritage Port. However, board members did not present such an amendment.

“I am not a supporter of smoking. I think it is a hideous addiction. But as a member of the community, I realize there is an economic impact,” Kinney said before the vote.

Delbrugge, who also is a member of Wheeling City Council, said she is a non-smoker but she doesn’t feel the board should be making decisions for everyone.

“We’re all adults and make decisions about where they go and what they do. I do understand from a health point, but as far as everything else, I can’t go with this,” she said.

Wonderly responded that she “is not trying to infringe on anyone’s free will,” but said a smoking ban is in line with “our position in West Virginia as a board of health.”

Caruso said, “It’s very difficult, no matter what we’ve done over the past two years, to improve the health of Ohio County. … We need to make a difference in the long run for future generations as to how tobacco affects health.”

Dr. William Mercer, Wheeling-Ohio County health officer, told the board, “I hope what you do today really does make a difference.”

After the vote, Holloway said, “Clearly, there are lots of different opinions. As a board, we’ve listened and read (comments). These regulations are dealing with simply the secondhand smoke. The science is irrefutable: Secondhand smoke causes short-term and long-term consequences.”

Holloway added he understands potential criticism over exempting the casino from the ban, but the possible job losses and loss of insurance coverage that could result would also become a public health concern.

“We struggle with these things. As much as we’ve struggled with the casino and gambling rooms, that is such a tiny part of the picture. One can go almost anywhere in Wheeling and Ohio County without being exposed to smoke.”

The regulations will be reviewed in one year, according to Holloway.

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