Local clubs join fight against smoking ban

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An attempt to get Ohio’s smoking ban at least partially overturned for private clubs and some businesses hit a snag this week, but the fight goes on.

The Partnership for Job Preservation presented a proposal for the November ballot that would have allowed smoking at bowling alleys after 6 p.m., at bars where no more than 10 percent of sales are food and at private clubs, such as Veterans of Foreign War posts.

But the initiative didn’t have enough valid signatures to get it on the ballot. On Monday Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann said the group produced only 776 of the 1,000 signatures needed to get a required petition certified.

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The group said it would submit another proposal to change the law, maybe by the end of the week.

According to its Web site, the Partnership for Job Preservation “is a coalition of private club members including VFW posts, Eagles Clubs, Elks Clubs, bars and taverns, bingo halls, pool hall and bowling alley establishments who

believe that they know best how to serve their patrons and members.”

Mike White, the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8850 in Ironton, said that the VFWs would continue to fight to overturn the smoking ban.

“Most of the veterans in the clubs are smokers,” he said. “Before the ban, every one you went into had ashtrays.”

When told about that the petition was rejected because there weren’t enough signatures, White said they should have brought some down to Ironton.

“No one came down and asked us,” he said. “I think we could have got 200-300, easy.”

Rick Cox, the chairman of the trustees for the Ironton Elks said he has seen a drop in the number of people who come to the club on a Friday or Saturday night since the smoking ban went into effect on May 3.

There used to be between 60-80 Elks on the weekend nights. Now, he said, it gets 15 or 20 people.

“It’s really put the hurt on us,” he said. “Members are really mad because it’s a private club.”

Cox said that he and many other members believe the law was twisted from what they were told it was going to be.

“When we voted, we were told private clubs were exempt. Then all at once, we were told if you have one employee, you can’t have smoking,” he said. “I don’t remember seeing that on the ballot. I read up before I vote and I don’t remember that being mentioned.”

White, who is a nonsmoker, said he was going to a convention this month and he was going to discuss the ballot initiative with the state VFW leaders.

“This is a private club, it is all veterans who fought for the rights of all Americans,” he said. “Many of the members are older and they have been around for a while, they’ve been wounded and now they are going to tell them they don’t have the right to smoke.”

He said the ban smoking isn’t right.

“It’s taking away a personal freedom,” White said.

Cox said he and many Elks members across the state voted for the measure because they thought it would help private club’s business.

“In turn, they twisted what we thought we were voting for and turned it into something else,” he said.

Instead, Ironton Elks has even seen a drop in the number of people who rent out its dining hall. He suspects some people cross the river into Kentucky where people can still smoke inside.

“We’ve had several people who said, ‘If we can’t smoke, we aren’t going to be there,’” Cox said. “I suspect not only us, but other groups will continue to lose business.”