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Steve Novotney Says, "Help Health; Don't Hurt the Economy"

It is likely none of them have lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and if they have during their respective lifetimes, it was a number of years ago.

In Ohio County, we have a medical supply business owner, a doctor, the wife of a doctor, a hospital executive, a funeral home employee, and a city council member that form the Ohio County Health Board. Each member was appointed, not elected by the people of the county, and they soon will make a decision that could cost West Virginia businesses millions of dollars.

And that's just not right because only one of them can be held accountable to voters of the city of Wheeling.

The Ohio County Health Board staged a public meeting last week to collect opinions about a proposed expansion to the county's Clean Indoor Air Regulation, or the smoking ban law, and only two of six members were present. That fact alone should deem another public hearing with more members present because, with only two of them there, the gathering was rendered useless because four members did not hear about the damage such an expansion would do.

In 2005, the same board implemented the ban but included exemptions for Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and limited video lottery parlors. An expansion approved 14 months ago included all government-owned properties and most public places, including golf courses, parks, and even Heritage Port.

Now this board is considering another overreach that would include the casino and the LVL parlors, the same move made in Brooke and Hancock counties that closed businesses, cost the state of West Virginia millions, and destroyed more than 100 jobs by banning tobacco use, even in designated, out-of-the-way areas, at Mountaineer Casino-Racetrack. Wheeling Island General Manager Kim Florence, one of 15 residents who spoke against the proposed ban expansion, offered detailed information and statistics to the health board members:

  • $17. 5 million in lost revenue for the state of West Virginia;
  • More than 150 jobs lost at the racetrack alone.

But did the two board members who bothered to show up just discard the offered material the same way the board's chairman poo-pooed Wheeling Council's suggestion to perform an economic impact study related to such a proposal?

That's my fear.

No one disputes that cigar and cigarette smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are bad for your health, and the percentages have flip-flopped over the past several decades. Once upon a time about 75 percent of American citizens smoked because no one told them it was bad for their lungs and their hearts. In fact, the advertising demanded smoking was "cool" and that it improved breathing.

We know much differently today, and that is why only about 20 percent of country's population lights up these days, and that is a very good thing for the future. Of course, Americans eat far too much sugar and fast foods laden with sodium, but those are battles for future generations because there is no widespread fury over the diabetes epidemic and the salt addiction that are claiming lives each and every day.

But with smoking? It's a different story, and that's because it's not technically socially acceptable to oppose what the Ohio County Health Board has proposed with this expansion. If some people do so they are ridiculed, and if they are ones who smoke, then that can be the one and only reason why they fight back. As someone who smokes, I have encountered that sentiment a countless number of times, and even after I explain my opposition, I doubt anyone believes me.

But this time?

This time we are literally talking about jobs at the Wheeling Island casino and at the many establishments that have the LVL machines. The pay is not great and, of course, only the full-time folks qualify for health benefits, but that does not mean those people aren't raising kids on that money or maybe trying to continue their education.

And what these unelected health board members need to consider, too, is the fact all of these paycheck-to-paycheck employees pay taxes, too, to the state, the federal government, and to the city of Wheeling's 1 percent sales tax. If they expand the smoking ban, though, those jobs, and people, go away from Wheeling at a time when there's a push to retain, recruit, and attract new residents to the city.

From the very beginning, I believe the indoor air regulation to be insulting because I was raised to believe adults can make adult decisions, but such a mandate goes way beyond making sure my steak isn't spoiled and my milk is not sour. Smoking bans, in my opinion, babysit adults to the extent that some legal citizens and a lot of business owners are forced to exist unconstitutionally.

Leave it as it is.

It's working now because the adjustment has been made after losing several businesses – including a couple of bowling alleys – and a plethora of jobs, too, during the past 12 years. This board has done its damage, so at this time these six health board members, if they all show up next time, should allow this proposal to die.

And then they should move on to proposals that actually help overall health in Ohio County.