Smoking Bans In Private Businesses Should Be Up To The Owners

By Steve Novotney

Editors’ Note: This is maybe a good time to remind readers that Weelunk doesn’t hold opinions. It doesn’t even have a brain. However, many Weelunk writers, including Mr. Novotney, do. When you see them (the opinions, not the brains) paraded across these pages, please remember that they belong solely to the author. 

Let’s get something on the table at the very beginning.

Smoking. Is. Stupid.

And I, as a soon-to-be-non-smoker, can state that as fact because of the mistakes I’ve made. I have quit several times before now, but I found excuses to rip off the patches or to quit chewing the gum.

That’s what addiction does, but smoking becomes about more than the addiction to nicotine. I know I transformed myself into one of Pavlov’s dogs, always seeking reasons to reward myself for some sort of accomplishment. Wash the car? Light it up. Make dinner? I deserve it. Write a column? Smoke up, Stevie!

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Plenty of scientific proof has been supplied by the medical industry during the past few decades, so the fallacies perpetrated by Big Tobacco many moons ago should be identified for what they were – manipulative misinformation. Once upon a long time ago, Americans were told that smoking made you cool and that it actually helped you breathe better than before.

Lies, all lies.

According to the American Lung Association’s website, “Every year in the U.S. over 392,000 people die from tobacco-caused disease, making it the leading cause of preventable death. Another 50,000 people die from exposure to secondhand smoke. Tragically, each day thousands of kids still pick up a cigarette for the first time. The cycle of addiction, illness, and death continues.

The debate is over. Smoking is stupid, and the statistics have flipped over the years. For example, approximately 21 percent of U.S. citizens smoke today, including 23 percent of men and 18 percent of women, according the Wall Street Journal. In 2010, the state of West Virginia was first in a Center for Disease Control listing of states with 27 percent of adult-smoking taking place, and despite health departments’ implementing smoking regulations in several Northern Panhandle counties since 2005, the percentage has not moved much.

The good news? In the middle of the 20th century those numbers were reversed. Education, the death of someone close, and the expense have, thankfully, led many to kick the nasty habit.

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The bad news? Unelected, unaccountable governments are implementing the smoking regulations in West Virginia instead of lawmakers passing legislation. It all started in the Mountain State in the early 2000s, when a lawsuit advanced all the way to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The case concerned a rest home and a smoking lounge. The Board of Health ordered a smoking ban after receiving complaints, and people fought against it.

The moment the Supreme Court’s opinion was rendered in 2003, it empowered health boards in all 55 counties to do the same despite the fact that health board members are appointed and not elected. Ironically, the High Court’s opinion stated health boards could not regulate smoking in bingo parlors and retirement homes, but everywhere else was fair game.

In the Northern Panhandle, smoking regulations are now in place in Marshall, Ohio, Brooke, and Hancock counties. Monday the Brooke County Health Board expanded its ban to cover all public places, including fairs, festivals, and playgrounds.

Dr. William Mercer, the medical officer for the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, has urged the county’s health board members to reconsider an expansion of the smoking regulation in place in Ohio County since June 19, 2005. Mercer’s expansion proposal, which would have eliminated exemptions for Wheeling Island Casino and LVL parlors and banned the habit from all public places, was tabled indefinitely in 2011.

Earlier this year, he expressed his hope the expansion would be reconsidered.

My only argument against these regulations is two-pronged:

  1. I do not believe bureaucracy should be permitted to establish laws – that’s exactly what a smoking regulation represents no matter how it is spun. And, yes I am aware this practice takes place on all levels of government, but I disagree with it every single time. My opinion is, if the majority of the people want such bans in place, let the elected lawmakers pass the legislation;
  2. And I do not believe business owners are as stupid as smoking is, and that is why I have always believed the bottom line would dictate smoking rules inside privately owned businesses. If most of the people refuse to go into a tavern, restaurant, or a casino because its owner allows smoking, then so be it. The decision to permit smoking should rest entirely with the owner and no one else.

Government officials are free to establish whatever rules they wish concerning the property owned by the government, and so I have no argument concerning those regulations, but when unaccountable bureaucracy mandates how a private business owners goes about their business, an overreach occurs.

Unfortunately in West Virginia, it merely continues instead of the state’s legislators stepping up and doing what they are elected to do.