Veterans: VFW halls should be exempt

Private clubs that hire employees must comply, a state official said.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Veterans who voted for Ohio's smoking ban feel betrayed now that the state Health Department says the law applies to private clubs that have employees, including VFW halls, a veterans group said Tuesday.
Members-only VFW halls, which veterans believed fell under the exemption clause as it appeared on the November ballot, shouldn't have to comply, said William Seagraves, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of Ohio, who urged the state to change its draft rules for enforcing the ban.
Seagraves spoke out at a third meeting of bar owners, public health advocates and other business groups who are seeking to clarify how the law will be carried out. The smoking ban, which aims to protect nonsmokers and employees from secondhand smoke, took effect Dec. 7, but the state won't issue penalties until dozens of rules are finalized.
"How can the state tell veterans that they have no right to smoke in their private clubs?" asked Seagraves, whose group represents 424 VFW halls in Ohio.
Explanation of exemption
Socrates Tuch, legal counsel to the state Health Department, said that while the law has a provision exempting private clubs, it also says that all employers -- businesses, associations or private entities -- that have employees must comply. That includes private clubs, such as VFW halls, that have bartenders and wait staff, paid or unpaid, he said.
The law, backed by public health groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, covers most public places, including restaurants, bars and offices. It also spells out in clear detail exemptions for retail tobacco stores, designated hotel rooms and enclosed areas of nursing homes.
The state has until June 7 to put the rules in place. Seagraves said his group will push for a new ballot initiative that clearly exempts VFW halls if the state insists on keeping its interpretation of the law.

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