Already, 27 W.Va. counties make tobacco a no-no in public areas
CHARLES TOWN – Last week’s vote by leaders in the Northern Panhandle to ban smoking in public places has some asking whether Jefferson County will follow suit.
Over the vehement objections of officials from Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, Hancock County became the 27th of West Virginia’s 55 counties to forbid tobacco use in public areas. The new rules take effect next July.
In the Eastern Panhandle, designated smoking areas are becoming less prevalent, too. Berkeley County’s ban took effect two months ago and just this week, Jefferson Medical Center in Ranson and other properties owned by West Virginia University Healthcare went smoke-free.
Lyn Widmyer, a Democrat who serves on the Jefferson County Commission, said she remembers when smoking was allowed even in hospital labor and delivery areas. “We’ve come a long way and I think we should keep on going,” she said. “From a health perspective, I think it should be banned everywhere you go because smoking is not healthy in any shape, way or form.”
Widmyer, who will leave the commission in January after opting not to seek another term, said she doesn’t believe a smoking ban has ever come before the Jefferson County Commission. She said she does see advantages for counties that ban tobacco, including as a strategy for spending less on medical care.
A ban on smoking in public places “is just another way to create a healthier workforce and country,” Widmyer said.
Tom Trumble, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Health, said board members focusing on addiction and other more-pressing health matters right now.
He also sees the trend moving toward smoke-free even without a countywide ban. “Individual businesses are adopting a smoking ban as they see fit,” he explained. “You cannot smoke in any government buildings. There is a no-smoking area in most restaurants. By and large, if you want to avoid smoking you can. It’s up to the individual to do so.”
Trumble describes himself as a “recovering smoker.”
“I understand the issue,” he said. “The county health board is a small group and we can only do so much ourselves. Right now we are concentrating on the principal health issues in our county – drug addiction, mental illness, diabetes and obesity. Clearly those are the top four.
“We are concerned also about getting all children inoculations before they go to school. We need to pick and choose based on our resources and the community’s needs. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
For many, the question of whether to allow smoking comes down to economics. “The major change that a [county-wide] smoking ban in public places would have would be at [Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races],” Trumble said.
Matte Hancock, who owns Charles Town’s Longshots Billiards and La Mezzaluna Café, said that if Jefferson County adopted a smoking ban in all public places, her businesses might suffer.
“We allow smoking at Longshots because it’s a private club,” she said. “I think we would only be negatively impacted by a smoking ban in public places if a neighboring county still allowed it – or if a similar class of business within the county, like the race track, was able to keep smoking while the smaller clubs had to give it up.”
More than 50 years after the Surgeon General first warned of the tie between smoking and cancer, lung disease and other woes, West Virginia has the second-highest rate of smoking in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings.
The report states that 28.2 percent of adults in the West Virginia – some 409,000 people – smoke.
The latest numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Resources found that 22.6 percent of Jefferson County residents were smokers in 2012.