NEW CUMBERLAND, W.Va. — “Saddened and extremely disappointed,” is how the American Lung Association described a decision by the Hancock County Board of Health to roll back parts of the county’s smoking ban. The change will allow for smoking at Mountaineer Casino and various local gambling establishments with Video Lottery machines.

“This is something we were not aware of until the county Board of Health started to discuss it,” said Sarah Lawver, Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in West Virginia. Lawver indicated the decision to make the change caught her organization completely off guard.

The decision was a heated one and didn’t come without controversy. The Board of Health vote resulted in several resignations from the department on the spot, including the county’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Anna Suray. Board Chairman Philip Rujak also stepped down in the wake of the decision.

The decisions, according to advocates, was a financial one . The reversal of policy applies only to the casino and gaming establishments, all other public places in Hancock County still forbid smoking. Acting Chairman John Plesa said the change was to boost the tax base to help with other issues like fighting the opioid epidemic. That didn’t sell with Lawver.

“According to the sate of tobacco control, the economic cost to West Virginia due to smoking is
over one BILLION dollars,” she said. “One does cancel out the other.”

Lawver hopes they’ll be able to convince the board to reconsider the decision in the interest of their own mission–protecting public health.

“No level of second hand smoke is safe,” Lawver said. “The American Lung Association supports totally smoke-free environments to protect public health.”

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