by Gail Marsh
ASSISTANT CITY EDITOR
The argument for passing a stricter clean indoor air regulation in Harrison and other West Virginia counties was strengthened this week by a national report showing that exposure to secondhand smoke was declining around the nation.
The study from the National Institutes of Health, the ninth "Report on Carcinogens," reported that levels of cotinine, a chemical found in the blood of nonsmokers after exposure to secondhand smoke, had dropped by nearly 75 percent since 1991.
Studies measuring cotinine levels in 1991 found that nearly 90 percent of the national population had some level of cotinine in their blood.
"The big message of this report is that clean indoor air policies do work," said Keith Dalton, media director with the state Department of Health and Human Resources, Division of Health Promotion, which includes the Tobacco Prevention Program.
Dalton said 43 of the state's 55 counties have already enacted some form of clean indoor air regulation, beginning with Monongalia County in 1992. The policies limit smoking in restaurants, malls and other public places.
Four counties, Hampshire, Gilmer, Taylor and Upshur, currently have or are phasing in policies that ban smoking in restaurants.
"This is especially good news for restaurant workers who are the most heavily exposed to secondhand smoke. They are 50 percent more likely to get lung cancer, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights," Dalton said.
A task force charged with creating a proposed clean indoor air regulation for Harrison County will present its findings during Tuesday's 12:30 p.m. Harrison-Clarksburg Board of Health meeting. A special meeting to hear from the task force was set for March, but it was canceled for lack of a quorum, according to Mary Ann Iquinto, president.
"We want to see how the proposal looks, fine tune it and then bring it to a vote some time soon," Iquinto said.
A public hearing on the smoking issue was held in January, where parties from both sides spoke on the proposal that would ban smoking from most public places.
Clarksburg resident Mary Danes, who attended the hearing and who served on the task force, said she favors keeping the status quo.
The current policy allows restaurants to have 25 percent of its seating for smokers if it has some type of ventilation, which is strict enough, Danes said.
"I was in the minority (on the task force), but I feel the new policy is asking for too much. I basically served on the task force to keep from losing ground," she said.
Danes said the new policy would call for a 100 percent indoor smoking ban in a restaurant unless the area had proper ventilation in a walled-off area. Danes said that would be too expensive for most establishments.
"I would like to see restaurants with 35 seats or less exempt from the policy, the mom and pop businesses that are small. I think the board is being naive about what this policy will do to small businesses in Harrison County," Danes said.
Though environmental tobacco smoke has been classified as a "Group A" carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which means there is no safe level of exposure, Danes said she believes most of the national studies are not carved in stone.
"Some of these studies have huge problems and the facts do not support what's being said," she said. "You can call smoking a public annoyance, and I understand why people would want to deal with an annoyance, but I just think people are being carried away."
Assistant City Editor Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.