The New War: Keeping Vets from Smoking

Joe Richmond’s been a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for 14 years. He’s been commander of Post 1500 in Willoughby for 11. Nobody knows better when it’s time to deploy a fish fry. He’s a smoker, too, as are many veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Back then, he says, you got cigs as part of your rations. Today, of the regulars at the post’s bar, he thinks about 60 percent are still smokers. “And the other 40 don’t bitch,” he says. Last Thursday marked the official first day of the statewide smoking ban that voters approved in November. But for Richmond and private clubs like the VFW, it’s been an especially harsh last draw. For three months, Richmond waited for the state to get serious. Then, in March, he got a gift: the Ohio Department of Health said it were exempting private clubs. It seemed a good decision: If you were willing to get shot at for your country, the least we could do is allow you to smoke a tasty American tobacco product if you were so inclined. That was a relief to Richmond, who’s been sweating low membership for some time. But it stoked the member businesses of The Ohio Licensed Beverage Association. They feared that private clubs like the VFW would use the exemption to steal smokers and start bending their membership rules. “For some, the only requirement is that your $20 check clears,” says Jacob Evans, the association’s lobbyist. So the association sued the Department of Health to remove the exemption, and last week won a two-week restraining order against it. A judge will decide if it goes permanent on May 14. Still, Richmond doesn’t feel wounded by friendly fire – it’s the guys who pushed it in November that he’s still pissed at. No more fundraisers for the American Cancer Association, he says, if all they’re going to do is take his donations and screw him. “It’s all these do-gooders who want to tell me what’s bad for me,” he says. -- Jason Nedley

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