NEW CUMBERLAND – Despite emotional, last-minute pleas from Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort employees, the Hancock County health board on Tuesday 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 on July 1, 2015, 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.
Well, Mr Rujak, if I lived in West Virginia’s Hancock County, I wouldn’t “adapt”. I’d simply stop going to restaurants, casinos, clubs, sports arenas, and concerts. And maybe certain outdoor public places as well. I’d stay home, and meet up with my smoking friends in their homes. And if 20% of Hancock County’s residents are smokers, and they all do the same as I would, then that’s 20% of those places’ customers lost. Maybe more.
And what’s this about “Those people are smart business people. They have the ability and the know-how to make things work”? How do they “make things work” when a fifth or a quarter of their customers have gone, and they have no way to win them back?
In the UK, pubs have “adapted” by effectively ceasing to be bars, and becoming restaurants. But something like 15% of them have closed since the UK smoking ban was introduced in 2007.
Of the five casinos in West Virginia, only the Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs and Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in Cross Lanes near Charleston prohibit smoking. The latter is the result of stricter smoking regulations adopted by Kanawha County in 2008, said Christina Mickey, project coordinator for the Smoke-Free Initiative of West Virginia.
Elsewhere in the state – at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack – stricter smoking regulations adopted by Jefferson County in 2004 and Ohio County in 2005 have exemptions for gaming facilities.
But Mickey said the trend in the state is toward the kind of action taken Tuesday by the Hancock County health board.
“In the past five or six years, we haven’t seen a board of health that has gone back to revisit regulations make any exemptions. This (Hancock County) regulation is very consistent with what other boards are passing,” she said.
“West Virginia boards of health are following the same national trend, which is going back and removing any exemptions where workers and the public are exposed (to secondhand smoke),” Mickey said. “With the addition of Hancock County’s regulation, that will be three of the five casinos that will be smoke-free.”
Mickey said the mentality of some smoking ban opponents that “the sky is falling” is unwarranted and unsupported by the evidence.
“It’s more how the business owner accepts and transitions to a status of a smoke-free environment, and makes the most of this change, that impacts their business,” she said.
Well, actually, Ms Mickey, for some people the sky really is falling. And if you don’t know it, it’s because you’re looking at the wrong evidence.
Apart from shattering communities, smoking bans also hobble businesses. And it’s not just the bars and restaurants that will suffer. There’ll be a downturn in all business. People will go out less, travel less, shop less. They’ll buy fewer clothes, shoes. They’ll buy less of everything in Hancock County. They’ll spend their money in other counties or states where they’re still welcome.
Antismoking zealots seem to think that life will carry on as normal, only “smoke-free”, as everyone gets used to the change. But it won’t, because they won’t.
I seem to remember that during the US Prohibition era, Canada and Mexico and Cuba did very well from American tourists flocking to their bars and night-clubs. And 100 years on, Americans are far more mobile than they were back then. For the more that smoking is prohibited in the USA, the greater the incentive for adjoining countries to provide a haven for smokers. There’ll be a lot of money in it. There probably already is.
The same will apply inside the USA, because of the piecemeal nature of smoking bans. There’ll be smoke-free states, and smoker-friendly states. And smoke-free counties, and smoker-friendly counties. And the more smoke-free some states become, the greater the incentive there’ll be for other states to remain smoker-friendly, because their economies will boom.
And the longer it goes on, the more likely smokers in smoke-free states and counties will be to up sticks and move to a smoker-friendly state or county. And the more likely antismokers will do the opposite. And the more smokers there are in smoker-friendly states and counties, the more they’ll make darn sure that their Boards of Health don’t get taken over by antismokers. The USA will become a checkerboad of smoker-friendly or smoke-free states and counties.
Eventually all the smokers will have moved to smoker-friendly states and counties. And all the antismokers will have moved to smoker-free states and counties. And in the easy-going smoker-friendly states, it’ll be much easier for new businesses to start and prosper. And in the smoker-free ones, it’ll be much harder, due to their restrictive regulations.
And as the smoker-friendly states and counties prospered, the smoker-free states and counties would decline. Businesses would move out. House prices would fall. Unemployment would rise. So would crime.
Smokers are the canary in the mine. If they don’t prosper, nothing prospers.