A recent report by the federal Department of Health and Human Resources that included second-hand smoke in a list of 218 suspected or known carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) should give added impetus to change a voluntary clean air policy in Harrison County into law.
In 1997, the Harrison County Board of Health adopted a policy of 75 percent non-smoking and 25 percent smoking seating in restaurants. However, the problem with the regulation was the fact that it was carried out on a voluntary basis. In essence, the Board of Health couldn't force restaurant owners to comply with the policy.
That could change if the Harrison County Medical Society Alliance and the Harrison-Marion County Tobacco Prevention Coalition can muster enough allies to change the voluntary regulation into law with penalties prescribed for violators.
"I think it is time for the Board of Health to revise the policy to protect clients and employees from second-hand smoke, " says Delia Naranjo, a spokesperson for the Harrison County Medical Society Alliance.
Naranjo wants the board to enforce the current 75/25 division of smoking and non-smoking seating in restaurants, and to eventually adopt a 100 percent non-smoking rule within a year.
We agree with Naranjo in advocating no smoking in restaurants, especially in light of the finding that second-hand smoke has been classified as a known carcinogen. While the position may seem extreme to some, forcing the majority of customers to inhale noxious and dangerous fumes is simply wrong.
We do, however, think smoking should continue to be allowed in bars and nightclubs. Patrons of those types of establishments know the risks involved when they enter those businesses, anyway. In fact, Naranjo's group doesn't take a specific stance on smoking in bars. She says the Board of Health would have to decide on the future course of action in that arena.
Forty-three counties in West Virginia have adopted clean air regulations as of March of this year. Harrison County should follow suit and act posthaste. We will all breathe a little easier when they do.
Today's editorial is a reflection of the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey and J. Cecil Jarvis.