Legal Fight Erupts Over Smoking In Private Clubs
YARMOUTH, Mass. -- A legal dispute over whether towns can ban smoking in private clubs and fraternal organizations has made its way to the state's highest court.
The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments in May in the case, which will affect thousands of smokers who are members in organizations such as the Moose, Elks and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Attorney John J. Twomey, representing the Loyal Order of Moose, Lodge No. 2270, has argued that the Legislature intended to allow towns to ban smoking only in public places.
"To deny the membership ... their right to enjoy each day, as they have in the past, is to cause irreparable harm to them as each day lost can never be replaced," Twomey wrote in a brief submitted to the court.
Most of the lodge membership is older and male. Members told The Boston Sunday Globe the town shouldn't dictate what they do inside their lodge.
"These guys have fought wars and did all that other stuff," said Bill Kelley, a lodge trustee and, at 34, one of the lodge's youngest members. "And they can't even have a beer and a smoke in their private club."
The town's lawyers argue that it doesn't matter whether the Moose and other fraternal organizations are private or nonprofit. They argue that the law gives towns the right to ban smoking in any establishment where "food is served to the public."
Because food could be served to "the lady friend" of a male lodge member, or "the gentleman friend" of a chapter member of the Women of the Moose, as well as prospective members, the Moose lodge serves food to the public, according to the town's lawyers.
Antismoking groups, including the American Cancer Society, are backing the town, arguing that the ban protects Moose members and their friends from exposure to a known carcinogen.
Smoking is not a right, they argue, and banning it does not interfere with the rights of the Moose to gather and socialize.
Currently, communities are interpreting the law in different ways. More than 70 communities in Massachusetts have banned smoking in bars, clubs, and restaurants. Some ban smoking in private clubs and others don't. And some communities that allow smoking in private clubs reverse that policy on days when the club is rented out to the public.