Despite emotional, last-minute pleas from Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort employees, the Hancock County health board on Monday unanimously approved an indoor, countywide smoking ban with no exemptions for gaming facilities.
The long-anticipated action makes Hancock County the 29th county in West Virginia to adopt a comprehensive Clean Air Regulation that bans smoking in all indoor public places and places of employment.
For months, the policy under consideration by the five-member board has divided the county-between people who say they don't want to be exposed to secondhand smoke and people who say the regulation will drive out-of-state smokers away from Mountaineer and other gaming destinations. The debate also has been intensely watched at the state level, bringing out anti-tobacco activists and supporters of the state's gaming industry.
In the end, health board members said their chief aim, the promotion of public health, will be good for the Hancock County economy. The regulation, which takes effect July 1, bans smoking in all restaurants, gaming facilities, private clubs, sports arenas, places of employment and concert venues, as well as certain outdoor public places.
"Change is a hard thing," health board member Phil Rujak said, "but everyone will adapt."
Rujak, who made the motion to adopt the policy, said he has "great confidence" that Mountaineer and other smoking ban opponents will be able to adjust. "Those people are smart business people. They have the ability and the know-how to make things work," he said.
Board President Rick Smith said the delayed effective date will give all those covered by the regulation time to "prepare and adhere to the policies that are forthcoming."
Smith said the board, throughout the months of discussion and dissension, stayed single-minded in its focus on public health.
"It's two different issues - revenue and life - and you can't compare the two," he said.
"This was not, in any way, an easy process or a decision made in haste."
The policy, as adopted Tuesday, bans smoking in all restaurants, bars, gaming facilities, private clubs, hotels, motels, restaurants, bingo operations, fire department facilities, retail stores, tobacco businesses, concert venues, sports arenas, bowling lanes and other enclosed public places.
It also bans smoking in public parks, including pavilions, playgrounds, fairs, festivals, outdoor service lines, outdoor serving areas of restaurants and other outdoor public places. All places of employment are covered by the regulation.