WVNCC Going Cold Turkey

West Virginia Northern Community College students who still smoke may want to invest in nicotine patches or get ready to quit cold turkey, as the school’s first official day as a tobacco-free campus starts Thursday.

The occasion was mentioned during Tuesday’s Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health meeting. The policy forbids people from smoking anywhere on campus, including outdoor areas. It will coincide with the national Great American Smokeout.

Howard Gamble, health department administrator, said another local institution – West Liberty University – is slated to implement its new tobacco-free campus policy on Jan. 1. Jonathan Lewis, regional tobacco prevention coordinator with the American Lung Association of West Virginia, said he has already been visiting WVNCC’s campuses in Wheeling, Weirton and New Martinsville to distribute literature on how to stop smoking. He plans to be at the college’s Wheeling campus Thursday to distribute more literature to students.

”To my knowledge everything is going fine,” Lewis said of the policy.

Ohio County’s indoor smoking ban has been in place for a few years, but it currently does not include outdoor public areas. Some businesses and hospitals already have their own policies banning outdoor smoking, including Ohio Valley Medical Center and Wheeling Hospital.

In other matters, Gamble said site selection conducted today will help West Virginia University researchers collect air quality data related to natural gas drilling. Somu Chatterjee, regional epidemiologist based at the health department, is coordinating the effort that involves placing WVU’s collection devices on various plots of property. Air quality will be measured in Ohio County, but data may also be collected in Marshall and Brooke counties.

Chatterjee previously said there is ”no air quality data available in the country specifically linked to gas drilling.” The study will take into account other things that may impact air quality, such as factories or vehicle exhaust. The data will be collected at various sites and distances from wells and at all phases of the gas drilling process. The air monitoring equipment was designed by Michael McCawley, associate research professor at the WVU Department of Occupational & Environmental Health Sciences. Data collected by the equipment can be checked via computer in Morgantown.

Chatterjee is expected to accompany McCawley today to various potential sites for the monitors. Preliminary data collected during the next few months will be used to help the university secure grant funding to conduct a larger study that likely will yield final results in four or five years.

Meanwhile, the board also held a closed-door session to discuss pending litigation against the health department. No action was taken during the open session and no more related information was released.

And Gamble informed the board the regional Cancer Information Specialist position held by Sandy Duvall was being eliminated because of a reduction of federal funding coming to the state of West Virginia.

Health Officer Dr. William Mercer noted there have been no reported cases of seasonal influenza in West Virginia this season. But people, he said, should still get their flu shot if they have not already. Health care workers, who come into close contact with patients on a daily basis, also should get vaccinated, he said. The health department offers the vaccine, along with several local pharmacies and most physicians.

”We encourage everyone to get a flu shot now. There’s no reason to wait,” said board chairman Dr. John Holloway.

Mercer noted he attended the annual American Public Health Association meeting held this year in San Francisco. He said 12,000 people attended the event that included seminars on various topics including those related to public health and natural gas drilling or fracking, vaccines, outdoor tobacco policies and more.