The West Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that would allow indoor smoking areas at certain resort areas and gaming facilities at existing historic resort hotels like the Greenbrier.
The House advanced House Bill 3341 to the Senate in a closer vote than usual in the Republican supermajority chamber Saturday over the opposition of delegates who feared it could lead to adverse health impacts like those that affected them or their families.
Approved in a 57-33 vote, HB 3341 would allow what the bill calls “cigar bars” — indoor areas designated for smoking not just cigars but other tobacco purchased on the premises or elsewhere.
The indoor smoking areas would be permitted at "resort areas," defined by the bill as areas with a permanent population of less than 2,000 people, containing overnight guestroom accommodation and excluding property used primarily for manufacturing, electricity generation or mineral extraction.
Under the bill, resort areas would also include a licensed gaming facility at an existing historic resort hotel and a facility of an entity approved to operate racetrack video lottery machines.
The smoking areas would have to be equipped with a ventilation system exhausted so air from the smoking area isn’t recirculated into an area accessible to the public unless the air is filtered.
But that provision wasn’t enough for bill opponents who argued the measure would jeopardize public and workplace health.
“[T]his bill is mainly for the benefit of old, rich white guys,” Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said. “ … I’m more concerned about the people that are working for those rich white guys. They’re going to have to breathe in secondhand smoke for eight-hour shifts, 10-hour shifts.”
Speaking in support of HB 3341, Assistant Majority Whip Patrick Lucas, R-Cabell, a cigar store and lounge owner, predicted the "cigar bars" the bill would enable wouldn’t harbor cigarette smoking or vaping.
"If someone decides to open one at one of the resorts, it will be cigars and pipes and that’s it, trust me,” Lucas said.
That prediction didn’t persuade fellow Assistant Majority Whip Adam Vance, R-Wyoming, who recalled his father died Aug. 1 of lung cancer after being a lifelong smoker.
“I will not vote for this bill to give a reason for some kid or some teenager to think smoking is cool to go out and try to damage their health,” Vance said.
HB 3341's lead sponsor is Assistant Majority Whip Jordan Maynor, R-Raleigh.
Last month, the American Lung Association gave West Virginia a "F" grade for tobacco control based in part on the state’s funding for tobacco control programs, finding a dearth of smoking restriction provisions and inadequate cessation services.
Last year, the American Lung Association found West Virginia had the second-highest lung cancer incident rate and the highest rate of adult smokers in the nation.
The report found the state ranked 42nd for lung cancer survival and 37th for screening.
Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.