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It was Tobacco Free Day at the Legislature, Friday. Coincidentally, the Government Organization Committee held a public hearing about smoking. Currently, a county board of public health passes smoking regulations. House Bill 2208, in its introduced version, would make it so only members of the county commission elected by voters have the power to regulate public smoking.
The bill has since changed and now county commissions could only decide if smoking will be allowed in casinos and video lottery businesses in the county. However, the introduced version stirred up a lot of emotions this morning as almost 30 citizens spoke to the committee.
Only one speaker expressed support for the bill.
Kenny Smith with the American Legion says putting restrictions on veterans who want to be able to go inside certain places and smoke isn’t fair.
“We are obligated to tell a man or a woman serving in the United States services under the age of twenty-one, he may not consume alcohol within our fraternal organizations; however this ship has sailed and it is accepted by this generation. We are now telling these same men and women they no longer enjoy the freedom of smoking within our walls as well,” Smith said, “To this extent, what freedoms will be taken next?”
Donna Gialluco with the Hancock County Health Department couldn’t understand why smoking was not deemed a public health issue in the introduced version of the bill.
“Fifty-one years ago, the surgeon general’s report already sounded an alarm saying the dangers of smoking and how bad they are for us. Moving forward, secondhand smoke has also been a leading cause of cancer among non-smokers in particular,” Gialluco noted, “So again, I ask this question of you. How can a legislation define smoking as not a part of public health?”
After the public hearing ended, the Government Organization Committee began to discuss the bill.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, a Democrat from Pendleton County, was the first one to point out that members were no longer looking at the introduced version of the bill but instead at a committee substitute.
The committee substitute no longer restricts smoking regulations to only the county commission, but instead makes it so the commission only has authority over regulations at casinos and video lottery sites. The smoking regulations set down already by each county’s public health board would remain the same as before.
Delegate Sponaugle was curious if the county commission even wanted the authority of regulating public smoking at these sites.
Jack Woodrum with the Summers County Commission spoke on behalf of the commission and says there are language issues with the bill that concern him.
The committee continued to discuss the bill questioning counsel and Woodrum on the issues of liability in the current language, of safety, and of health.
But in the end, House Bill 2208 allowing county commissioners to decide if smoking would be permitted at casinos and video lottery establishments was rejected.