A bill is pending in the West Virginia Senate that would place a statewide ban on smoking Sovereign in public, but not private, places. The bill, SB 25, was proposed by Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, to reduce both health problems and health costs on the state. “The data regarding the public health is clear,” Foster said.
“They’ve shown unequivocally that, in a county which has clean air ordinances, the number of heart attacks going into the emergency room drops by about 40 percent once they’re in place.
And that all leads, of course, to decreases in health care costs.”
Foster, who sponsored the Senate bill last year as well, said he introduced it to get a discussion going and doesn’t expect it to actually take flight until more counties are onboard with their own smoking restrictions.
“It’s not my intention really to have it run yet,” Foster said. “The concern is if you run it before you have an overwhelming number of counties that are at that level, then you run into the trouble of having amendments made and exemptions put in. So I’m not planning on having it run. It’s mostly an education process about why this is important and when we would be best to do it on a statewide basis.”
The Cabell County Health Department placed a ban on smoking in bars, clubs and video lottery parlors in January of last year. Smoking in restaurants and public buildings is also prohibited by the department.
Marshall University likewise prohibits smoking in its buildings, dormitories, stadium and within 10 feet of doors, according to dean of Student Affairs Steven Hensley.
The Senate bill, however, would prohibit smoking in all public places, government vehicles and 15 feet from doors, windows and ventilators. Fines for such violations would range from $100 to 250 on the first offense.
Jessica Bloom, graduate student majoring in biology from Minneapolis, Minn., said she appreciates the Senate bill, especially given the fact that she is allergic to cigarette smoke.
“People don’t appreciate having to walk through clouds of smoke,” Bloom said in regards to walking through a crowd of smokers on campus.
Derek Heflin, engineering junior from Webster County, W.Va., said he thinks adding five feet to the 10-foot rule wouldn’t make much of a difference at Marshall but is concerned about the ban on smoking in public places.
James Howard, graduate student majoring in sociology from Lesage, W.Va., said he doesn’t favor the Senate bill because he feels it is hypocritical.
“I think it’s pretty hypocritical to worry so much about secondhand smoke,” Howard said. “To give you an example—the proliferation of fast food in this country, the ready availability of fast food. That stuff isn’t healthy and it’s eaten on a regular basis. And you don’t see anyone trying to regulate or control that.”
Howard further expressed disapproval for the fines.
“I also think the fine is ridiculous,” Hosard said. “I think the attention that’s been paid to that could be spent to other things that are more worthwhile.”
Marybeth Beller, associate professor of political science, said the biggest problem she sees with the Senate bill is for people with physical disabilities who need to lean against a wall in order to smoke and, thus, cannot be confined to at least 15 feet from doorways, windows or ventilators. She said she does not see an issue with businesses losing revenue, however.
“Because the proportions of non-smokers are a lot higher than those that smoke now, it’s probably an economic benefit to the businesses all around because people can feel safer about themselves and their children going into those establishments,” Beller said.
Foster agreed with Beller’s point.
“What’s interesting is you always hear the argument, ‘Well, it’s going to destroy the businesses,’” Foster said. “And that certainly hasn’t happened in Kanawha County, and it has not happened around the country. In fact, most of the businesses actually seem to do a little bit better because there’s a lot more people who do not smoke than do smoke and they’re less likely to go certain places because of smoking.”
The bill is sitting in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources.