|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD - The representatives of some member-only organizations fear that their enrollments might decline with the start of a smoking ban in private clubs.
The city's Public Health Council voted unanimously nine to zero last week to impose a smoking ban in private clubs on July 1. Springfield has joined other western Massachusetts cities including Holyoke, Chicopee and Agawam in extending the ban to private clubs. The Board of Public Health in West Springfield recently voted against such a ban.
Council Chair Timothy Allen explained the body had been discussing a ban in private clubs for three months. The ruling from the State Supreme Judicial Court enables, but does not require, local health boards to enact such a ban
The Springfield Public Health Council met in a small conference room overflowing with people largely against the prohibition. Many of them were representing specific organizations such as the John Boyle O'Reilly Club, American Legion Post 420 and Springfield Lodge of Elks No. 61.
Peter Sygnator, chair of the Board of License Commissioners, told the Council that he has spoken to bar and restaurant owners who reported the smoking ban for those businesses actually brought them new customers.
Emotions often ran high as one speaker after another pleaded with the Council to understand the rights private clubs have and what members of those organizations believe they've earned.
Richard Devine of the John Boyle O' Reilly Club said he has worked at the club for 34 years and is a non-smoker. He said he understands the health hazards and made a choice to work at the club.
"The problem is, this evening, we're losing a choice," he said.
One veteran after another spoke about how members of American Legion Post 420 see their organization as more than just a club, but an extension of their family and the post itself as an important part of their social life.
One veteran said that veterans are losing their rights every day.
Council member Hamilton Wray, himself a disabled Vietnam veteran, said his "heart goes out" to the veterans who spoke but added that watching family members die of smoking-related ailments influenced his vote.
"I can not be true to myself if I permitted smoking in private clubs," Wray said.
Wray spoke before the vote was taken and a number of the veterans filed out. One said, "They didn't listen."
Brian Keefe, Sr., the in coming exalted ruler of Lodge 61, told Reminder Publications that he will wait and see what the impact of the decision will be on his organization, but he will enforce the ban set by the Council. He said that some Elks are "peeved enough to walk" because of the ban.
Devine said afterwards he hoped that organization wouldn't lose members.
"[Smoking] is a big issue for use," he said. "It's a privilege of being a private club."
He said the club has been drawing younger members who don't smoke so perhaps the ban won't have too great an effect.