KEYSER - Mineral County will go totally smoke-free as of Oct. 1, 2013, and the majority of those gathered in the meeting room at the Mineral County Health Department Monday were not happy about it.

By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Mineral County will go totally smoke-free as of Oct. 1, 2013, and the majority of those gathered in the meeting room at the Mineral County Health Department Monday were not happy about it.
The five-member Mineral County Board of Health, which usually meets in the small library at the health department, was forced to move to the large meeting room at the health department Monday as a sizable crowd - mostly made up of representatives of area veterans' organizations - showed up to have their say about the proposed smoking ban.
The proposal - actually an amendment to the original Mineral County Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006 - bans smoking from areas such as bars, private clubs, and even outdoor recreation areas. The first reading was held June 24, and since then several veterans' organizations, led by the Keyser VFW, have been circulating petitions against its final passage.
One private club, Keyser Moose Lodge No. 662, went ahead and instituted its own smoking ban prior to the regulation taking effect.
Those wishing to speak to the board of health Monday were asked to sign up. Of the 25 persons who actually spoke (some who had signed up declined to speak), 15 spoke out against the ban. The major of those emphasized their fear that business at their clubs would decline and with it, the amount of money they raise which is in turn funneled back into the community by way of donations.
"We donate a lot of money to the community, and a lot of that comes from (people playing) the video lottery," said Paul McIlwee, quartermaster of the Keyser VFW.
Expressing the opinion that the lottery players will not return if they cannot smoke while they play, McIlwee told the board, "All you are doing is taking money from the youths of the community."
Ray Shepherd, representing the Ridgeley American Legion, read a long list of donations which that organization has made just in the last year. The list ranged from ball teams to local schools, with a wide variety of recipients in between.
"We cannot afford, you cannot afford, nobody can afford to lose this money," he said.
"People come to the VFW because they want to do three things - drink a beer, smoke a cigarette, and play the video lottery machines," McIlwee said. "If you want to go to a non-smoking facility, go to the McCoole VFW."
Christopher Everett, of Moose Lodge 271 in Wiley Ford, noted that the smoking ban in nearby Allegany County has actually helped them, because smokers looking to smoke while they drink a beer or play video lottery come across the river to Wiley Ford to do it.
"If you take that away from us, it might actually result in our lodge shutting down," he said.
Carpendale mayor Butch Armentrout, who is a member of the Ridgeley VFW, agreed that the ban could also cause their demise.
"If you take (smoking) away from us, it could be our death knell," he said. "Every month, we donate to somebody," he said, adding that a decrease in fund raising due to dwindling patronage would mean a stop to their support.
Both Ed Orndorff, governor of the Keyser Moose Lodge, and James Grapes, of Advanced Lottery Technologies of Keyser, which supplies the video lottery machines, admitted that the self-imposed smoking ban at the local Moose lodge has already resulted in a decrease in sales.
"We have dropped 38-39 percent at the machines, and 20 percent at the bar," Orndorff said.
Grapes, however, painted a more dire picture. "Keyser Moose has actually dropped off about 49 percent," he said.
Others talked about the ban taking away basic personal rights.
"I don't smoke; I've never smoked in my life," Bill Swick of the Keyser VFW said. "But everybody that smokes has the right of pursuit of happiness.
"I don't think you should mess with our clubs."
"We came to this country for freedom," Mary Lee said.
Paula Boggs, of Kelley Mansfield Post 52 in Piedmont, had a suggestion: "I think there should at least be a choice," she said, urging the board to "exempt veterans' organizations and private clubs."
Armentrout agreed. "You can put some sort of exemption for veterans' organizations," he said.
Of those who spoke for the ban, some talked about the health risks of smoking, of second-hand smoke, and even of third-hand smoke.
"(This ban) can only benefit us, as veterans, with our health care needs," Shawn Bennett of the Keyser Disabled American Veterans said.
Sharon Haines, of the Keyser Moose Ladies Auxiliary, noted that she felt "I should be able to go places and not have to deal with second-hand smoke."
Pastor Jim McKune talked about it being "a great thing if the playgrounds wouldn't have to deal with smoking," and Brian Salesky talked about being able to "go out and listen to a band and not have to come home smelling like smoke."
Angela Wolford, regional tobacco prevention coordinator, noted that the entire reason for a smoking ban is because the high rate of tobacco-related health issues can be prevented by not smoking.
"The key word is 'preventable,'" she said. "We can do something about this."
"I commend you guys for being the 24th county in the state to do this," Katie Salesky of Change the Future West Virginia told the board.
One man, Otis Jennings, stood up with his oxygen tank, telling the board, "You can see what (smoking) has done to me."
Once the public comment period was concluded, Gerri Mason was the only board of health member to speak about the proposed ban.
"I smoked for over 20 years. I would hate to think I am endangering the health of somebody else," she said.
"I don't have the right to cause harm to somebody else; that's the bottom line," she said.
With no discussion among the board members other than to note that a phrase eliminating smoking on "adjacent outdoor property" had been removed, the amendment was passed 5-0.
The vote set off an angry crowd, who made such comments as "thank you for nothing," and "what happened to 'we, the people?'" as they left.
One member, hushing another's comments, said, "We'll let our attorney take care of it."