News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 29, 2012

FLASHPOINT: ‘Private’ clubs should be exempt from smoking bans

Andy F. Whitt III
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Over the past several years I have watched the Vigo County Council, followed by the City Council, and lastly the legislature of the great state of Indiana, wrestle with a smoking ban. Each has written, discussed and subsequently passed ordinances and laws which prohibit smoking in workplaces and public places like restaurants, pubs and bars.

Each legislative division has provided its own rules and exemptions. However, when it comes to county and city ordinances, they leave much to be desired when it comes to fraternal organizations and private clubs. In an effort to regulate smoking in favor of the public good our elected officials have neglected to account for the minority of the population — members of private clubs and fraternal organizations who are a segment separate from the general populace of the county and city.

Now to what I’m getting at.

The current county and city ordinances do not provide exemptions to the smoking ban for fraternal organizations or private clubs as does the newly passed/amended  state law.

But before I begin, a bit about me and then to my point. I am a member of several fraternal organizations to include the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. I am a former smoker, having quit some 20-plus years ago. I have suffered the death of a spouse to lung cancer — she was just one month past her 43 birthday. I am knowledgeable of the risks to one’s health the addiction to tobacco poses. Now, on to why I believe that the county and city ordinances should be amended to exempt fraternal organizations and private clubs.

My fervent belief that present ordinances should be amended to allow fraternal organizations and private clubs an exemption to the smoking ban is based on the following: First and foremost is membership in a fraternal organization or private club based on a specific membership requirement, i.e., the Veterans for Foreign Wars served honorably in the U.S. military in the hostile environment of combat (war); the American Legion has similar requirements but somewhat less stringent; the Fraternal Order of the Police has another group of rules that specifies who may be a member. Now private clubs, and there are many, and each and every one has its own specific membership requirement based on numerous and specific rules to belong.

We join these organizations and clubs because we share common interests and values with them and you must not miss the key words; they are “fraternal and or private.” They are not public. This is my second and I believe the most important reason. Since they are not public these organizations and clubs should have the authority to determine their own fate. Their membership and not the public should decide whether their clubrooms should be smoke free or not, as the public has no vested interest.

Now I know that you, the nonsmoking public and several health-conscious organizations, are riled by my cause. You will say, “Andy, don’t you know better?” “Did not losing your spouse to the ravages of lung cancer cause you to see the foolishness of smoking?” My answer is, “Yes, it did.” However, what you must realize and as far as I am concerned what you are totally ignoring is that private organizations and clubs are just that — private. And private should never be subject to the whims of a general population of nonmembers. Members should and must decide their fate and not a city, county or state.

Lastly, and this back to what I’m at: I would urge our city and county councils to  immediately take up the task of amending the present smoking bans to allow fraternal and private organizations and clubs to decide their own fate as written in the state law.

— Andy F. Whitt III

Terre Haute