CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, introduced legislation Thursday to ban smoking in public places statewide (SB360) but conceded the bill is primarily intended to spur discussion.
“It’s as much for the discussion of the issue, and to make sure people recognize the success of what has been done at the local level,” said Foster, a surgeon and medical administrator.
Foster’s bill would prohibit smoking statewide in all public places, including restaurants, bars, clubs and gaming facilities, as well as in all college dormitories.
The only exemptions would be for private residences, retail tobacco stores, and for designated rooms in hotels, motels and nursing homes.
Individuals caught smoking in prohibited areas would be subject to fines of between $100 and $250 per offense. Owners of businesses that permit smoking would be fined $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second violation, and $2,500 for each additional violation within one year.
Foster said the bill would provide a base standard for the Clean Indoor Air Act statewide. Currently, health departments in each county set their own standards.
Under the proposed legislation, health departments could impose tougher countywide restrictions on smoking, in addition to the statewide standards, Foster said.
However, Chuck Hamsher, who represents several anti-tobacco organizations including the Coalition for at Tobacco-Free West Virginia, said the anti-smoking groups prefer keeping the policy at the local level.
“Our preference is to keep it local,” he said. “It makes sense to leave it in the hands of the county Boards of Health, who are mandated to protect public health.”
Hamsher said all 55 counties in the state have Clean Indoor Air acts, with most prohibiting smoking in workplaces and restaurants.
“The bars and gaming facilities are the wild cards out there right now,” he said, noting that smoking policies for those facilities vary from county to county.
Hamsher said there are also concerns among anti-smoking groups that tobacco lobbyists would get amendments put in the bill to provide statewide exemptions for bars, gaming facilities, and as many other businesses as possible.
Foster agreed that could be an issue.
“The problem with dealing with it on a statewide level is the influence from special interests that could make it more difficult,” he said.
Although chances for passage of a statewide ban are slim, Foster said he hopes debate over the bill will be an opportunity to showcase how successful county regulations have been.
In the eight years since Kanawha County’s Clean Indoor Air regulations took effect, the number of cases of coronary artery disease reported at hospitals in Charleston and South Charleston have dropped by one-third, he said.
Foster said that is strong evidence that the county’s smoking ban is having a positive effect on the public’s health, especially by limiting nonsmokers’ exposure to second-hand smoke.
Foster’s bill was sent to the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.
Also Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution opposing federal cap-and-trade legislation intended to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
The resolution, requested by Gov. Joe Manchin, urges the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the legislation, contending it would cost the state 10,000 jobs and $750 million in lost revenue by 2020.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, several senators spoke in favor of the resolution, including Energy, Industry and Mining Chairman Mike Green, D-Raleigh.
“This attack on coal must stop,” he said. “The nation will suffer, and we will be brought to our knees.”
The Senate adopted the resolution on a 33-0 vote, with Sen. John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell, absent.
The resolution goes to the House of Delegates. If it is adopted there, it will represent the official position of the Legislature on the issue, but otherwise carries no weight in law.
January 27, 2010
By Phil Kabler