West Virginia lawmakers have county smoking bans in their crosshairs.
For the second consecutive year, Republican legislators are moving bills that would allow county commissions across the state to revoke clean indoor air regulations and other public health board rules.
“This legislation would effectively turn health issues into political issues,” said Jack Woodrum, a Summers County commissioner.
State lawmakers say they just want to hold county commissioners and health departments accountable — not necessarily wipe out smoking bans.
“If the county commissions appoint these health officials, then the county commissions should also be responsible for their actions,” said Delegate Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley. “Right now, it’s like giving a kid the keys to the car and saying, ‘Here you go.’”
Of course smoking bans are political in character, because they affect a great many people’s lives, and they ought to be able revoke regulations which are over-intrusive or otherwise destructive.
But of course the health zealots disagree:
“This legislation would be a huge step backward for West Virginia,” said Juliana Frederick, who heads the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network in West Virginia.
As written, the bill would allow counties to revoke any health regulation — and require the commission to approve any new rules.
“It sets a dangerous precedent when you have an elected body of non-medical individuals with the potential to veto or overrule or eliminate regulations related to clean water, quarantines, immunizations, food safety and clean indoor air,” said Dr. Dan Foster, president of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. “Leave public health to the public health experts.”
The dangerous precedent is to hand the car keys to ‘experts’, and fail to consider the wider ramifications of health proposals.
In what other areas of life is everything left in the hands of ‘experts’? Is war-fighting, for example, ever left entirely to the military? Nobody ever gives them a completely free hand. Instead the military are always subject to civilian supervision, so that wider political considerations other than purely military ones are debated.
Why should health be any different? And given that smoking bans are both deeply socially divisive and economically destructive, these wider political considerations really ought to be discussed, and if necessary, health proposals rejected.