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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Smoking at the American Legion

Sometimes issues can get so confusing. I would love to give you a little background on one for this blog entry. My dad sold cigarettes for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for thirty years. I grew up with a family of smokers: my dad, my mother, and my brother (Dad is deceased, and both Mom and Brother have quit smoking.) When I was very young, my dad had me promise him I would not smoke until I was at least 21 years old. I didn't and never have smoked, and I am now 58.

I also am a member of a local American Legion Post that banned smoking when a new Ohio law went into effect. I was very proud of our post for committing to the stand, but just recently (due to loss of revenue) the post started smoking despite the ban. I must admit I have some selfish reasons for my stand, but I hate the smoke: health concerns, eye irritation, odor on clothes, lack of mannerly consideration for others. Let me take you through the issue.

Ohio voters approved the indoor smoking ban in November 2006, making Ohio the first Midwestern state and the first tobacco-growing state to enact such a ban. Under certain conditions, private residences; family-owned businesses without non-family employees; certain areas of nursing homes; outdoor patios; and some retail tobacco stores are exempt. By low, all other establishments must obey the ban.

The penalties for breaking the law follow. Businesses: Warning letter, first violation; $100, second violation; $500, third violation; $1,000, fourth violation; and $2,500, fifth and subsequent violations. Note: fines may be doubled for intentional violations at the discretion of the enforcement entity and may be assessed on a daily basis for continuing violations. Individuals: Warning letter; first violation; $100, second and subsequent violations. The retaliation against the Complainant is outlined: Warning letter, first violation; $1,000, second violation; $2,500 third and subsequent violations.

The proprietors' obligations under the smoking ban are essentially threefold: (1) prohibit smoking, (2) remove all ashtrays and other smoking receptacles, and (3) post No-Smoking signs with the toll-free enforcement number 1-866-559-OHIO (6446).

Many people complain that Issue 5 was written so ambiguously that many people became confused and voted contrary to their will in 2006. Although public attention to the issue was hammered months before the election, evidently, some did not understand the far-reaching effects of the smoking ban. I have never heard of another issue turned law refuted with ignorance.

According to legion officials where I attend, the ban is costing them business and quite frankly intruding on their ability to run their own business and their own post. Many legion members feel that since they fought for the freedoms of all, only to come home to the slow but steady erosion of their own freedoms, they should be able to smoke in their own clubs. In fact, many were introduced to smoking in the service and actually blame the government for their habit. Maybe some angry veterans should tilt with federal, not state, government policy.

Would it surprise people to know that currently the U.S. military is handing out a sample pack of cigarettes to Iraqis. The packs contain a phone number citizens can use to report on terrorist activities. No brand or source of the cigarettes was mentioned. And, the long-standing military tradition of cheap cigarettes in military stores persists because of politics in the U.S. military sales system and tobacco industry pressures, according to ABC Television and a new UCSF study. Researchers Ruth Malone, RN, PhD, and Elizabeth Smith, PhD, say a big part of the problem is the cheap cigarettes made available to our service men and women.

One legion member put the smoking ban rather bluntly: "The handwriting is on the wall. This is knee-jerk anti-smokers who never paid the price to belong here." The underlying intent is "Let them go somewhere else," a comment especially pointed at members of the Sons of the American Legion and the Ladies Auxiliary, two legion service groups that did not enter actual service. "The price" refers to smoking American Legion card holders per se.

Reportedly, the legion bar I attend is losing considerable money to other establishments across town that refuse to enforce the smoking ban. Many of these people are gamblers and smokers who play Ohio Keno and buy instant rip tickets from the establishment. They can easily enter another legion in town that has never enforced the ban and do their gambling, smoking, and drinking.

In fact, most other clubs in the area have defied the smoking ban. At my legion, until recently, smoking had been allowed only outside the building, but recently that policy changed. The board decided to allow smoking again in the bar as a necessity to continue operations. People continue to smoke unless the facility opens events to serve meals (during certain hours) to the general public. They are not allowed to use regular ashtrays, but pay $1.00 for a can to dispose of their ashes. Evidently, ashtrays are too incriminating to display. Rather odd logic -- defy the law with conditions? Shame on them a lot and us a little?

Public health groups like SmokeFree Ohio and the Ohio Restaurant Association -- the latter a vociferous opponent of the 2006 ban -- remain united in opposition to Senate Bill 346, a measure backed by some veteran's groups, bar owners and others that would allow smoking in some family owned businesses and private clubs. A similar measure in the state House of Representatives would also provide an exemption for stand-alone bars.

Why isn't enforcement happening? Let me give you one Ohio County's dilemma as a possible answer. In Hamilton County, the first several months of enforcement required investigation of more than 300 complaints. Between visits and paperwork, the county spent more than 400 man-hours enforcing the ban, yet only three bars were fined for a total of $300. The returns of enforcement were pretty fruitless.

A Few Simple Facts That Should Be Considered in This Volatile Issue:

1. According to statistician Stanton Glantz, for ten years an Associate Editor of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a recent California study revealed a six-month ban on smoking in all public places slashed the number of heart attacks in a US town by almost a half. The researchers attribute the dramatic drop to the "near elimination" of harmful effects of "second-hand" smoke - passive smoking.

2. "This striking finding suggests that protecting people from toxins in second-hand smoke not only makes life more pleasant, it immediately starts saving lives," Glantz says. The researchers claim the study is the first to show that smoke-free policies rapidly reduce heart attacks, as well as having long-term benefits.

3. Richard Hurt, an internist who heads the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center, has conducted research showing that bans decrease the overall number of cigarettes people smoke and in some cases, actually result in people quitting. "If you're in a place where smoking is allowed, your outside world is hooked to the receptors in your brain through your senses: your sight, smell, the smoke from someone else's tobacco smoke or cigarette. That reminds the receptors about the pleasure of smoking to that individual, and that's what produces the cravings and urges to smoke," Hurt explains. A smoke-free environment encourages smokers to reduce smoking or quit altogether. 4. Hurt adds that bans help decrease the urge to smoke in another way: They de-normalize it. For example, where smoking is considered the "norm" — as it was in so many countries in Europe for so long — more people smoke. In places where smoking is no longer the "norm"— in California, for example — there are fewer smokers. 5. Additionally, a survey conducted in August 2008 by SmokeFreeOhio shows that voters knew exactly what they were voting for by approving Issue 5. Ninety-seven percent of Ohioans who supported the law were confident they knew what they were voting for. Furthermore, 72% of voters agree that employees in private clubs should be protected from secondhand smoke in their workplace. Two years after the Smoke Free Workplace Act went into effect, nearly seven out of 10 voters approve of Ohio’s smoke-free law. Across party and gender lines, more voters support the law today than voted for the law. 6. Very simply, going against voters' wishes makes a mockery of the voting process. 7. If business is as bad as establishments claim, perhaps it's because they haven't reached out and promoted their establishments to nonsmokers. 8. Smokers have an addiction and some are vindictive. If they don't get their way, they tend to punish others. How about the veteran legion members who want to attend a club but who suffer from emphysema, who are cancer survivors, who suffer from heart damage, who suffer from cataracts or eye irritation, or who are currently on oxygen machines? Ramps and other safe access for handicapped veterans are legislated measures, yet many could care less about second-hand and third-hand smoke damage. 9. Some people will try to smoke in bars when they are intoxicated because alcohol obviously lowers consideration for social norms and laws. This can cause serious problems that will lead to a lot of confrontations and disorderly conduct. Many say they crave a cigarette most when drinking alcohol. It's kind of like enforcing a peeing and non-peeing area in the local swimming pool. Smoke has no boundaries and goes where it can, along with all of its deadly chemicals. Ventilation systems cannot take out all of the harmful substances completely and it is estimated that the workers in smoking environments are 4-6 times more likely to develop cancer than workers who work in smoke-free work places. 10. Various studies have shown some of the hidden benefits to businesses with smoking bans include reduced employee absenteeism, reduced insurance costs, and reduced cleaning and maintenance costs.

11. Consistency is lacking in a national legion policy on smoking. In one state instance, current law requires clubs with paid employees to obtain a "yes" vote from a majority of its ENTIRE MEMBERSHIP before smoking can be allowed. 12. Most interesting, the American Legion supports many youth programs, specifically a program that identifies and encourages young people not to experiment with so-called Gateway Drugs. Yet, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, facts show that most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana -- usually before they are of legal age." (2007, National Survey on Drug Use and Health) The survey continues, "People who abuse drugs are also likely to be cigarette smokers. More than two-thirds of drug abusers are regular tobacco smokers, a rate more than double that of the rest of the population." "In 2007, among recent initiates aged 12 to 49, the average age of first cigarette use was 16.9 years, similar to the average in 2006 (17.1 years). In 2007, the rate of current illicit drug use was almost 9 times higher among youths aged 12 to 17 who smoked cigarettes in the past month (47.3 percent) than it was among youths who did not smoke cigarettes in the past month (5.4 percent)." (2007, National Survey on Drug Use and Health) 13. Some false logic has been applied to appease smokers: "The smoking ban is taking away our freedom, because the government is putting limitations on where we can use a legal substance," they say. Yet, Jack Daniels is a legal substance but the government doesn't allow a person to drink it in excess and drive a car. Conceal and carry of firearms is legal but most public facilities ban firearms regardless of a permit. Freedom of speech is legal, but a person can't incite a riot by yelling "Fire!" in a crowded building. 14. To assess whether the El Paso smoking ban affected restaurant and bar revenues, the Texas Department of Health (TDH) and CDC analyzed sales tax and mixed-beverage tax data during the 12 years preceding and 1 year after a smoking ban was implemented. The report determined that no statistically significant changes in restaurant and bar revenues occurred after the smoking ban took effect.

15. Ohio allows employees and members, smoking and nonsmoking, their legal rights. The Ohio law states that “No person or employer shall discharge, refuse to hire, or in any manner retaliate against an individual for exercising any right, including reporting a violation, or performing any obligation under this chapter.” Because this language gives employees enforceable legal rights, it effectively creates a new employee cause of action for discrimination. Accordingly, an employee or applicant who is treated differently because he insists on a smoke-free workplace environment is entitled to his day in court. With economics and people being what they are, lawsuits are going to be filed. (Incidentally, I was just told the other night by a patron that if I wanted to continue DJing, I should not complain about smoking in the club.)

16. And lest anyone think that the no-smoking ban has created a cottage industry of tattletales, here’s reality: Since May 2007, there have been a mere 541 complaints filed in Mahoning County, Ohio. Indeed, the number has tapered off over time to an average of one or two a week — and most are from a few places. People who report smoking ban violations are not criminals or tattletales. The reality is that nothing is being done. What does this say for the competency of the Public Health Officials?

Local health departments do not have the option of turning a blind eye to the complaints filed. Warning letters are meant to encourage business owners to voluntarily end illegal smoking. But once they’re on the health department’s radar screen, there should be no doubt about what will happen next.

Smoking related illnesses are a substantial health problem and second-hand smoke represents a significant public health hazard. There is no such thing as inhaling just a little bit of secondhand smoke without risk. As a result, the current smoking ban appropriately puts the health of Ohioans above all else.

But, in truth, this issue is not about health at all. It is a MONEY issue. Mom and pop clubs are crying now with loss of revenue and hard times. The only answer to the problem is SACRIFICE. Didn't the mom and pop retail businesses complain about the Walmart explosion? Is smoking a service the American Legion should PROVIDE at a significant cost to others? The answer is found in the ALMIGHTY DOLLAR.

Last thoughts from CNN News and the Department of Veterans Affairs:

A new study commissioned by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs recommends a complete ban on tobacco, which would end tobacco sales on military bases and prohibit smoking by anyone in uniform, not even combat troops in the thick of battle.

According to the study, tobacco use impairs military readiness in the short term. Over the long term, it can cause serious health problems, including lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. The study also says smokeless tobacco use can lead to oral and pancreatic cancer.

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