Toward a Smoke-Free Workplace

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Not all vets want exemptions for VFWs and American Legions

Now that the Minnesota House and Senate have passed their respective bills toward ensuring all Minnesotans the right to a smoke-free workplace, it’s time to craft one bill that’s amenable to both houses of the legislature.

Of the two bills, the Senate’s is the tougher. Exemptions in the House version that don’t exist in the Senate’s are allowances for bars to have ventilated smoking rooms and allowing smoking in tobacco shops and private clubs with no employees. The House version also puts off the start date till 2009. Both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Mankato Free Press have editorialized in favor of the stricter Senate version.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he would sign whatever bill the legislature passes, though he favors exemptions for American Legions and VFWs. Neither the Senate nor the House bill has such an exemption.

It must be noted that not all veterans agree with Pawlenty on this exemption. In August 2006 in his acceptance speech as VFW commander-in-chief, Gary Kurpius said:

“We are a democratic organization that is letting 20 percent of the population tell us that the post will fail if people can’t smoke inside. That’s bunk.

I know many VFW members and spouses who will not attend post meetings or events because of the smoke. I have read many articles about the VFW being the last building in town where indoor smoking is still permitted. . . and some members quoted in the newspaper are celebrating as if they just won a great battle against government and social interference.

Comrades, that is not a victory, it is a sad commentary that unfortunately paints all of us with the same brush. American society and the VFW National Office have changed with the times, and so must you if you want your post to survive.

Kurpius’ words have already shown results in Florida, where one of Brevard County’s largest VFW posts saw its attendance rise after instituting a smoke-free policy.

North Mankato resident Christopher H. Crocker recently wrote in a letter in the Mankato Free Press,

As a veteran, I think it’s important for others to understand that those who promote a VFW exemption do not speak for all veterans.

Many of us who are eligible for membership to our local VFWs will not step foot in them because of the enormous amount of second-hand smoke. Many of the younger veterans, and many spouses of veterans of all ages, simply refuse to go to VFWs because the smoke is unbearable.

Eighteen other states ban smoking in all workplaces. If Minnesota is to maintain its standing as one of the healthiest states in the nation, it will have to pass a strict smoking ban without exemptions.