Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health Takes No Action on Clean Air Law

Photo by Scott McCloskey Kim Florence, president and general manager of Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino Racetrack, discusses the potential impact of eliminating the casino’s exemption from the county’s public smoking ban.

WHEELING — The Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health took no action Tuesday on the county’s clear air regulation, but heard more public comment regarding a current exemption to the indoor smoking ban.

Three speakers urged the board to keep in place the current exemption that allows smoking in specified areas at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and in limited video lottery rooms. Two residents cited merits of smoke-free workplaces and public venues.

Dr. John Holloway, board chairman, recommended that no vote be taken Tuesday on any potential changes to the revised and expanded clean indoor air regulation that took effect in March 2016. The board began a first-year review of the measure in April.

In making the recommendation, Holloway cited the many items on the meeting’s agenda and “perhaps the need for additional discussion” on the issue.

After hearing public comment, he told the audience, “We will not be having a vote today. … Thank you for coming. We appreciate your interest.”

Kim Florence, president and general manager of Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, gave board members a packet of information. She said it contained data on the impact of Hancock County’s smoking ban on Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort’s revenue, with a comparison to Wheeling Island’s revenue.

Tom Haluscak, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 12, said the union supported the casino’s position because revenue from the facility helps to fund the Wheeling Fire Department and other municipal services.

Anthony “Herk” Sparachane, president of the West Virginia Amusement & Limited Video Lottery Association, warned of job loss and potential economic consequences of prohibiting smoking at the casino and in limited video lottery rooms.

Sparachane said he and other video lottery operators “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars” to build separate smoking rooms. He told the board, “You’re going to cost a lot of people a lot of money for no reason.”

Holloway said the board never made any public or private agreement that the exemption would continue in perpetuity. Board member Cheryl Wonderly said video lottery operators had a choice of whether to build separate smoking rooms or make their establishments smoke-free.

Christina Mickey, regional coordinator of a tobacco prevention program in West Virginia, said, “Every worker deserves the right to a smoke-free workplace. … Hospitality workers are more exposed (to secondhand smoke) than anyone in the U.S. They have a rate higher than any other workers, and they face huge health consequences.”

Mickey said no current technology for heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems exists to remove cancer-causing agents from secondhand smoke. She said, “The only complete way to protect everyone is to go smoke-free in these environments.”

Claudia Raymer of the Ohio County Tobacco Prevention Coalition gave the board information on smoking cessation and prevention efforts and on the effect of secondhand smoke on hospitality workers. She said employees’ use of tobacco products and health problems related to secondhand smoke hurt businesses’ bottom line.

Holloway, who is a practicing physician, said irrefutable evidence exists that secondhand smoke has significant adverse health effects.

Later in the meeting, Wheeling Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday asked that a transition of one to two years be allowed for implementation of any policy change that the board might make. Scatterday, who is chair of council’s health and recreation committee, said responsibility for public health must be balanced with practicality of public policy.