Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

TOP STORY >>New rules could oust young vets from VFW halls

BY PAUL PETERSON
Leader staff writer

They are old enough to go to war and die but can’t smoke in a public building. That seems to be the view the state is taking with young veterans, and it’s one that concerns Veterans of Foreign Wars commanders.

Jacksonville VFW Post 4548 Commander Don Reynolds said he understands what legislators are trying to accomplish with the smoking ban, but also believes the matter needs further examination to determine whether or not it will be as effective as it is anticipated to be.

“Well, I think they need to look at it a little closer,” Reynolds said. “We do a lot of charity work, kids activities here, especially around Christmas. It’s gonna hurt the kids more than it will us. The way the Clean Air Act is written now, we can’t let them in the building.”

The new state law bans smoking in workplaces and takes effect July 21. It exempts certain establishments, including bars that don’t allow anyone under the age of 21 on the premises.

With an exemption, many military-service organizations could allow smoking but would have to post a sign saying anyone under 21 would not be allowed in.

“We’ve got 18, 19, 20-year-olds who are in Iraq and who can buy cigarettes, but they can’t come into our place,” Reynolds complained.

“It’s a concern of ours because we can ask them to join the VFW, but they can’t participate and it really makes it bad,’’ said Bill Hill, commander of VFW Post 2278 in Hot Springs. “Probably 50 to 60 percent of those in Iraq are in that young age group and when they come home, they’ve got no place to go, and I’m having a hard time accepting that,’’ said Hill.

Reynolds and other VFW commanders believe the law is a bad situation for the VFWs, American Legions and other service clubs, he said. “This is not what we went to war and fought for,’’ Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the VFW members would have to decide if the post would be either all smoking or all non-smoking. “There’s no way we could survive if we went all non-smoking. I understand it’s still up in the air until we get some sure-fire definition of how it’s going to work. It’ll require them to look at this a lot deeper,” Reynolds said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.