Healthcare, Monongalia County, Preston County, State Government, West Virginia Legislature

House of Delegates divides over cigar bar bill during Saturday floor session

MORGANTOWN – While cruising through a long list of bills during a Saturday floor session, the House of Delegates debated at length and divided sharply on a bill to allow resorts to set up cigar bars or lounges.

Supporters cited freedom and tourism while opponents cited public health and the bill’s vague wording.

While the title refers to cigar bars, the bill allows for smoking of any tobacco products – including cigarettes and vapes, it was said on the floor. The term resort applies not just to casinos and racetracks, but essentially any hotel.

It does contain an age restriction – 21 and up – and space and ventilation requirements.

Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, talked about his history of smoking cigars and pipes and the reasons he quit, including four bouts with cancer.

But, he said, “I also believe that people who choose to smoke and don’t impede upon the ability of others to smoke should be allowed to do so. It’s a freedom issue.”

Delegate Patrick Lucas, R-Cabell, owns a cigar store and lounge. It appeals to all races and income classes, he said. “It’s simply a pleasure,” relaxing and therapeutic.

He said that premium, hand-rolled cigars have no addictive properties or chemical additives. And FDA study of smoking two per day showed no negative health effects. “This is kind of much ado about nothing.”

While the bill’s wording is broad, it is meant just for cigars and pipes, he said, and those lounges don’t allow cigarettes or vapes.

Delegate Jordan Maynor, R-Raleigh, is lead sponsor. “This is a tourism bill. This is an economic development bill. … This is a freedom bill, he said. It allows resorts to improve what they have to offer. “If you don’t like these things, you don’t have to participate in these things.”

Delegate Adam Burkhammer, R-Lewis, was among the opponents. He said private cigar bars already exist and are subject to local indoor air quality regulations. This bill will bypass that.

And the state spends millions for its Tobacco Prevention Task Force, he said. “I believe we’re just moving in the wrong direction. … You can take your freedom and smoke outside.”

Delegates Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, and Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, were among those concerned about subjecting employees to secondhand smoke, whether they are exposed voluntarily or involuntarily.

Delegate Adam Vance, R-Wyoming, said his father was a lifelong smoker and died last August from lung cancer. He’s not against the freedom to smoke but he tries to protect his kids from the temptations of the world and he’s afraid for the sake of kids and teens who will see smoking as cool because of this bill.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said he didn’t believe the assertions only cigars and pipes will be smoked. “The whole title of cigar bar is completely misleading. And tobacco is unhealthy, that’s why it’s regulated.”

He read an email from a physician who talked about the years of work to get a handle on tobacco and establishing clean indoor air ordinances.” Fast agreed: “This will roll back decades of hard work.”

The vote was 57-33; 28 Republicans and five Democrats voted against it; four Democrats voted for it. It goes to the Senate.

Other bills

These bills also passed and go to the Senate.

HB 3114 would deny severance pay to Department of Transportation probationary employees who fail to or refuse to take a drug test. It passed unanimously.

HB 3214 creates a Road Optimization and Assessment Data Road Pilot Program in Monongalia and Preston counties to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to assess road conditions and use predictive analysis for preventive maintenance. The vote was 88-3 with three Republicans opposing.

HB 3398 would create a Memorial to Fallen Heroes of the Global War on Terrorism. Pushkin read some comments from Delegate Elliot Pritt, R-Fayette, who hopes the names of those who committed suicide after returning home could be added to it as casualties of the war.

Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, presented the bill and noted his script used the word “conflicts.” He commented, “I think we all know they were wars.” And at the height of the Iraq war, 48% of combat brigades were National Guard local citizen soldiers. He’s long been a critic of undeclared wars and said the country is being led down a dangerous path by leaders who don’t care about veterans. The vote was unanimous.

HB 3493 would prohibit a Chinese governmental entity or a company or entity headquartered in or owned or controlled by China or Chinese citizens from owning agricultural land in West Virginia. The vote was unanimous.

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp Email