BUCKHANNON – Whether their device of choice is a cigarette or an electronic vaping pen, Americans have an ongoing problem with puffing, a representative of the Upshur County Tobacco Prevention Coalition said Thursday.
And unfortunately, amid the heroin and pain pill epidemic, the issue has been seemingly swept under the rug, Dr. Joseph Reed, a representative of UCTPC and the medical director for the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, told the Upshur County Commission at their meeting.
Reed and fellow UCTPC member Tim Higgins appeared before the commission to inform them that more U.S. residents’ lives are lost every year to tobacco and nicotine use than to alcohol and other controlled substances combined.
Although the Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Act is in place, Reed and Higgins wanted to know what the county could do to deter more people from smoking and vaping. Reed said he’d like the commission to discourage their employees from smoking and members of the general public from smoking in or around county facilities.
“We’d like to ask you all to look at what you’re doing – policies and so on – and see what the possibilities are for improving the smoking abatement situation in your properties and [with] your employees,” Reed said.
Reed noted heroin and opioids have been the focus of the addiction epidemic lately, but municipal, county and state governments need to stay focused on tobacco because it kills more people – just over a longer period.
“It (the opioid crisis) certainly is a significant thing, but if you look at the total years of life lost, there’s more lost from tobacco than there is from alcohol or other drugs,” Reed said. “The reason that the opioids get our attention is a rapid increase in them, and the number of people who die from overdose usually die 40 years early. With alcohol, it’s 30 years early, but with tobacco, it’s 10-14 years early, but there’s so many more people involved with tobacco that the total years of life lost is greater than the others.”
“I don’t mean to belittle what’s being done with the opioids and alcohol at all, but I think that we have kind of lost focus on the tobacco issue,” Reed added. “What I would ask is that the commission look at your policies and procedures and what opportunities there might be to continue work on these concerns.”
Vaping was added to the Upshur County Clean Indoor Air Act in 2016, Reed noted, saying the county health department has made “some progress” in curbing smoking in public spaces.
“We’ve also made a significant effort to make sure people are really doing what the rules say, and I think we’ve made considerable progress,” he said. “Unfortunately, with a few [entities], we’ve ended up approaching court action in order to get compliance.”
Reed said he’d like the commission to report back to him on how officials could tackle nicotine addiction in partnership with the UCTPC.
“Some public facilities aren’t in compliance still,” he said, “so how can we approach this? We would like to hear some kind of report in a couple months of what you think are possibilities.”
Higgins said the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Division of Tobacco Prevention has a stellar tool to help people stop smoking called the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline.
According to its website, the Quitline is free to all Mountain State residents age 18 and over; for more details, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or 1-877-966-8784 to speak to a Quitline representative.
Higgins said the number of people in the U.S. who die in vehicular accidents; from alcohol use; and from opioids and other controlled substances pale in comparison to the number of people who pass away from tobacco use daily. He used beads to demonstrate that 1,212 people die every day in the country as a result of smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco or vaping.
“So, yeah, we have a problem,” Higgins said.
Commission members thanked Reed and Higgins for sharing their comments and concerns.
Earlier in the meeting, Reed briefed the commission on Green Bean and Volunteerism weekend Aug. 8-10.
“The Green Bean activities are coming together,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a Green Bean Cook-off on the ninth of August at Festival Fridays, and on the 10th, we’ll have a Green Bean Stroll, and the main thing is just to have fun.”
Reed said everyone’s welcome to participate, including individuals with handicapped scooters, who are permitted to ride along.
“Several years ago, we had seven-and-a-half bushels, and last year, it was down to four, so we’ll see what we get this year,” he said. “This started as an idea for trying to encourage people to do gardening, to do agriculture and to be nutritious [in their food consumption].
The commission signed off on a proclamation declaring Aug. 8-10 as the Fourth Annual Green Bean and Volunteerism Weekend, which will include a 9 a.m. Green Bean Stroll at the Riverwalk Trail. The cost of entry for the stroll is one bag of snapped green beans or $5, and all proceeds will go to the Parish House.
Before adjourning, the commission also:
- Approved the reappointment of Phil Loftis to the Buckhannon-Upshur Airport Authority Board through June 30, 2022.
- Accepted the resignation of Upshur County Sheriff’s Deputy William T. Chidester, effective Aug. 2. Commissioner Terry Cutright said he appreciated Cutright’s efforts as a deputy. “I’d like to thank Deputy Chidester for his service to the community and wish him well in his endeavors,” he said.
- Approved a request from WVU Extension Agent Craig Presar on behalf of the Upshur County CEOS to use the courthouse plaza as a location for the CEOS’s mini-fair from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6.
- Approved and signed a General Contract of Services between the commission and Day Trippin Adventures LLC for services to be provided to the Buckhannon-Upshur Parks and Recreation Board Sept. 7. The board plans to host a community float event.