The â€˜no smokingâ€™ bell soon will toll for private clubs
The " no smoking " bell will soon toll for private clubs in Weymouth.
The Board of Health voted unanimously on Feb. 6 to expand the townâ€™s smoking ban to include these clubs.
Technically, the board deleted the exemption for private clubs and private lounges from the town-wide smoking ban it passed last July.
Board members say that the move will extend protection from the unhealthful effects of second-hand smoke to include all town employees.
However, organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Knights of Columbus â€” and their members â€” are angered by the boardâ€™s action.
Some veterans said at last weekâ€™s public hearing that their rights were being violated.
Kenneth McNeil of VFW Post 79 said that the removal of the exemption is an infringement upon the rights of veterans.
" We are doing an injustice to our veterans, " he said. " The post is their home. "
Joseph Dillon of VFW Post 1399 agreed.
" Please, just leave us alone, " he said. " World War II and Korean and Vietnam War veterans like to go to our clubs and relax and smoke. This is an invasion of privacy. What are they going to do next? Tell us what color pants to wear? "
Weymouthâ€™s smoking ban is codified in town bylaws as " Regulation 20: Restricting Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke. " The regulation, one of the strictest in Massachusetts, " prohibits smoking in any area open to the public. "
Regulation 20 had exempted nursing homes, private residences, and private clubs from the smoking ban, and allowed a hotel to set aside no more than one fourth of its rooms for patrons who smoke.
Private clubs, many of which provide money to the town in the form of charitable contributions from activities such as bingo, have now lost that exemption.
When the ban was passed last summer, many restaurants and private club owners said that their business was going to drop off because their patrons would flock to establishments in other towns, where they could puff away in peace.
The town-wide smoking ban was supposed to have begun on Jan. 2, but during a public hearing in December, it was pushed back to March 4 because many restaurant owners said that the ban would cause economic hardship. Several owners met with Mayor David Madden in November to argue for relief.
At the December hearing, restaurant owners said that Weymouth should be 100 percent smoke-free, including private clubs. The Board of Health then continued the hearing to this month.
The Feb. 6 hearing lasted an hour, a sharp contrast with the marathon July hearing, which took four hours.
Those testifying in favor of the measure consisted of public health advocates and restaurant owners who, ironically, spoke against the smoking ban last July.
Rosemary Brewster, owner of a small restaurant and bar in South Weymouth, said that the private clubs would steal her business.
" I donâ€™t want smoking in private clubs because the public bars will lose out, " she said.
John McCarthy, owner of the Brick Grille, said that his business will lose out anyway.
" Most of my customers are going to go to Quincy, " he lamented.
McCarthy said that no liquor establishment should be allowed an exemption if his business is forced to prohibit patrons from lighting up.
" If the town is going to go non-smoking, then it should be across the board, " he said.
According to Kevin Champaign of Commonwealth Vending Company in Braintree, who testified at the hearing, Braintreeâ€™s total smoking ban has hurt bar owners and private clubs.
Champaign talked with some business owners and private clubs about how this ban has impacted them.
" The Braintree Elks said that they are devastated. The DAV said that they are ready to go out of business. Helenâ€™s said that weekday business is down by 40 percent, and by 55 to 60 percent on weekends. To say that a total smoking ban does not affect business is wrong: It is killing business. It is devastating for bars to go totally non-smoking. I have seen Norwell return to smoking at TGI Fridays, and Norton is again allowing smoking in bars, but not restaurants, " Champaign said.
Champaign reported restaurant owners saying that they are seeing their former patrons drive to Quincy, where they can have a drink or a meal and puff away.
Restaurants on Bridge Street, doors away from Quincy competitors, are especially vulnerable.
Champaignâ€™s sister-in-law, Vickie Champaign, just bought the Glory Days CafÃ© on Bridge Street, and Champaign worries how the ban will affect the business.
Champaign said that all local businesses want is a level playing field.
" Weymouth should wait until the state goes smoke-free, " he said.
What it is about is protecting the health of all the townâ€™s employees, according to Suzanne Arbing, director of the Blue Hills Tobacco Free Community Mobilization Network.
Cheryl Sbarra, a lawyer with the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, said that the issue is clearly about workersâ€™ rights.
" The intent is to protect workers from second hand smoke, " she said.
Protecting workers was the major theme of board members as well.
" One of the things I cannot get around is the protection of workers, " Gary Peters said.
" The only issue we are facing is the health of the workers. I have to be responsible for the employees who work there, so I have to vote to rescind the exception, " Vice Chairman Maureen Fuschetti Del Prete said.
VFW member Dillon said that the boardâ€™s actions demonstrated " callousness and ignorance. "
" All the people who work for us have volunteered to be there, " said Dillon, who characterized the argument regarding worker protection as a " bag job. "
In spite of objections, the non-smoking bell will soon toll for all the townâ€™s establishments
Richard Marino, Weymouthâ€™s director of public health, said the ban would definitely take effect March 4.
" I do not foresee any extension beyond then, " he said.