Contrary to popular belief, indoor smoking bans have been good for West Virginia businesses, according to a recently released federal study.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest volume of Preventing Chronic Disease looked at the economic impact of smoke-free laws on restaurants and bars in eight states: Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
In each of those states, smoke-free air laws are enacted and enforced locally, not statewide.
"Smoke-free air laws in restaurants and bars protect patrons and workers from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke, but owners often express concern that such laws will harm their businesses," the study's authors wrote.
West Virginia counties with indoor smoking bans showed a 1 percent increase in restaurant employment as compared to those counties where smoking was allowed. The remaining eight states saw no significant association between smoke-free laws and employment or sales in restaurants and bars.
Nasandra Wright, sanitarian supervisor for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the smoking ban here was controversial at first, but that more people came to see its benefits over time.
"More people are interested in working in an environment with clean air," she said. "There are a lot more health benefits. Tobacco use damages nearly every part of the body."
Wright said smoking causes some $2.4 billion in total economic loss in West Virginia annually.
The county's clean indoor air policy recently won an award and will be used as a kind of model nationally. The county first enforced a policy in 1995. In 2008, it was expanded to include bars. The current compliance rate is at 98 percent, Wright said.
"Initially, it wasn't well-recepted, just like any change," she said. "Initially, we had resistance from business owners. But over time, they've become very receptive. Once they learned the benefits of clean indoor air and saw there weren't adverse reactions in terms of economics."
Wright said she's pleased with the exceptionally high compliance rate.
"We want to provide the residents in Kanawha County what is best for them," she said. "People are very appreciative of the initiatives for health here in Kanawha County. We are trying to bring about awareness so people can understand the impact of secondhand smoke."
For more information, visit www.kchdwv.org/Home/Environmental/Clean-Indoor-Air-Regulation.aspx.