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No Decision On Expansion Of Smoking Ban

Tilda Briggs loves her job as a table gambling dealer, but after eight hours of breathing in cigarette and cigar smoke cigarettes from gamblers, her lungs begin to hurt.

"There's a lot of players that don't want smoking cigarettes during games," Briggs told members of the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health on Tuesday.

Briggs, who works at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, said before the meeting she was concerned that speaking in favor of the board's proposed plan to expand the countywide smoking cigarettes ban to her workplace might cause her to be fired. But she felt compelled to speak anyway.

"I do realize there are pros and cons, but I'm here to tell you the hardest part of my day is sucking down someone else's smoke," Briggs said.

The health board is considering expanding the ban to prohibit smoking cigarettes in all indoor public places, in addition to 20 feet outside of both public and government buildings. Currently, the ban exempts gambling areas inside the casino, along with video gambling areas inside bars and stand-alone video gambling parlors.

Briggs claimed workers were told by casino supervisors if they didn't sign form letters against the ban, it would ultimately result in job losses if the expansion is approved.

Wheeling Island spokeswoman Kim Florence said, however, no employee was forced to sign a letter or told they would lose their job. She noted half of the casino's 1,000 employees signed letters given to the health department.

Board member Gloria Delbrugge, also a Wheeling councilwoman, said she believes it is the wrong time economically to expand the ban. The current measure is enough, she said.

"Why now? ... I don't agree with it and I think it's wrong," Delbrugge said. "It's working fine, leave it go."

Board member Cheryl Wonderly disagreed with Delbrugge, noting the ban was meant to protect everyone, including workers.

"We're trying to stand up for those voices that can't do anything," Wonderly said.

Dr. William Mercer, county health officer, said some casino workers told him they are tired of waiting for an expansion of the ban, enacted six years ago by the board.

"The workers say, 'When are you going to protect us?'" Mercer said.

Administrator Howard Gamble gave board members additional proposed ban amendments to consider, including a plan to phase-in the smoking cigarettes ban at the casino during a two-year period. During that period, every six months another 25 percent of the casino would go smoke-free. And every six months, the health department would monitor whether gambling revenues are decreasing at the casino. The numbers would come from the state, he said. If the numbers did show a decrease in revenues, it would be up to the board to continue the expansion or go back to the old ban.

Gamble said the phase-in idea came about after hearing concerns from city and county officials about the economic impact the expanded ban could have on their coffers.

Another proposed amendment calls for giving parlors and bars time to enforce the expanded ban.

The board was asked by Gamble to read over comments submitted during the past 30 days about the proposed ban before making any decisions. The board is scheduled to hold a work session, open to the public, at 4 p.m. Aug. 11. The meeting likely will be held in City Council Chambers, second floor of the City-County Building. A public hearing date was not set.




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