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VFW, Legion posts go smoke-free

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(Joe Harpring | The Republic) New signs on the door at the Columbus VFW Post 1987, indicate the results of a vote by membership to make the facility on National Road, south of Columbus, smoke free. Wednesday July 11, 2012.
(Joe Harpring | The Republic) New signs on the door at the Columbus VFW Post 1987, indicate the results of a vote by membership to make the facility on National Road, south of Columbus, smoke free. Wednesday July 11, 2012.

Members of the Columbus posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion will have to light up outside their buildings despite an exemption for private clubs in the recently adopted statewide ban on smoking in public places.

That exemption to the smoking ban, which was adopted in the General Assembly earlier this year, carried some provisions.

One was that the membership of the organization had to vote to allow smoking.

On July 3, members of Columbus VFW Post 1987 voted by a 21-11 margin to prohibit smoking in the club on U.S. 31 south of Columbus. That action drew a protest from Post Commander Benny Smith, who resigned his position.

The members of Columbus American Legion Post 24 voted earlier in the year to allow smoking in their 25th Street post but another provision in the law has kept the building smoke-free. Post Adjutant Jack St. Clair said that the local facility could not meet a requirement that clubs set aside a separate and ventilated room for smokers.

Opinions among members of both organizations were mixed about the situations. In resigning his position from the VFW, Smith, a Vietnam veteran and 3-year member of the local post, charged that “the government was taking away our rights.”

He also challenged the method of voting at last week’s meeting. “Members of the Auxiliary were allowed to vote,” he said. “It should have been restricted to VFW members.” He said he might formally challenge that process and ask for a new vote that would be limited to VFW members.

Thom Jester, post adjutant said that he had been at the meeting and that “only a few members of the auxiliary participated. Had they not participated, the result would have been the same.”

Officials were quick to act on the vote, posting signs at the entrances that the buildings would be smoke free. “We’ve also retired all the ashtrays,” said Jester.

Even if the membership had voted to allow smoking, Smith acknowledged that the separate room requirement would have posed a serious hurdle. “There would have been quite an expense and we don’t have all that much money for such a purpose,” he said.

Other private clubs throughout Bartholomew County have taken action to allow smoking on the premises, but the members are divided.

“Our membership voted to have a smoking facility, but it sure is expensive,” said Steve Lentz, an officer with the Columbus Moose at Eighth and Washington streets. “It sure would have been a lot cheaper for us if the state had just gone ahead and done a blanket ban.”

Chuck Zapfe, manager of the Eagles Lodge on Washington Street said that the organization’s game room had been converted into a smoking area with its own air conditioning.

“The whole thing has not been well-received among our members,” he said.

Anita Hancock, manager of the Elks Club at Columbus Municipal Airport, said that the bar area had been closed off and constituted a smoking room.

Joe Bronnert, president of the House Committee for the Knights of Columbus Hall on Middle Road said that a room in the building has been designated as the smoking area and is currently being prepared for that use.

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