BUCKHANNON - Upshur County Commissioners said they need more time to think before deciding whether to support efforts to make the new West Virginia National Guard Armory and convention center on Brushy Fork Road a tobacco-free campus.
At Thursday's commission meeting, Dr. Joseph Reed, medical director of the Upshur County Health Department, appeared before the commission to request that they write a letter to the commanding officer of the 601st Unit of the state Army National Guard supporting the Upshur County Board of Health's recommendation that the new facility adopt a campus-wide tobacco-free policy.
The policy, if adopted by the state Army National Guard, would mean that tobacco use would not be permitted either indoors or outdoors on the grounds of the armory and conference center.
Upshur County's Clean Indoor Air policy and policies on the federal level already prohibit smoking indoors and near entrances and exits of buildings, Reed acknowledged. However, the county and state must do whatever it can to promote the health, he added.
"The Health Department is, on behalf of the (Upshur County) Tobacco Coalition, requesting that it be tobacco-free for the whole campus," Reed said, "which means it would be the same as St. Joseph's Hospital, the Upshur County school system, Corhart and, hopefully soon, West Virginia Wesleyan College.
"I think we need to be on record as promoting things that promote the health of our citizens," Reed added. "I think we need to do everything we can to help our future generations not have this habit. It's an epidemic, and I think it requires all the efforts any of us can make."
Commission President JC Raffety recommended that the commission take the request to draft a letter in support of a tobacco-free campus under advisement.
Reed said he also requested a similar letter of support from the Upshur County Convention and Visitor's Bureau board. The board ultimately decided to write the letter, but, if the state would not grant the tobacco-free campus request, asked that a special area for tobacco use be designated.
"The CVB discussed some concerns that it (a campus-wide tobacco-free policy) might interfere with some businesses who might otherwise come to the convention center," Reed said. "I submit that some businesses might come to the conference center because of that policy."
Raffety asked Reed to prepare a letter of support "in anticipation of the commission's approval."
Buckhannon resident Rick Edwards asked to comment on Reed's request. Stepping to the podium he beseeched the commission to "seriously reflect" on a campus-wide tobacco ban.
Edwards, a self-described tobacco user, said it's very difficult for people who have been smoking for a long period to stop without special chemicals, pills and patches.
"Statistics show that tobacco use and smoking is going down, and continues to go down due to peer pressure and increased regulations," he said. "I think we're doing harm to ourselves (by supporting a campus-wide policy). I would ask for a designated smoking area, but not a smoke-free campus. You may actually lose business."
Commissioner Donnie Tenney, who said he smoked for 30 years but has since stopped, said there needs to be more of an emphasis on helping people who want to quit, rather than simply penalizing them.