With concerns about the effects of secondhand smoke, many states have enacted laws requiring public places to be smoke-free. However, in some states, American Legion posts and other private clubs are exempt.
In some communities, Legion posts are perceived by the public as a smoky bar. This perception can overshadow the impact on our collective missions and prevent new members from joining.
In an effort to change this perception and not turn away new members because of a smoke-filled environment, many posts have considered going smoke-free, despite the exemption.
Those opposed fear prohibiting smoking will decrease bar traffic and membership. The argument is that if the change is made, smokers will have no place else to go to smoke and drink, resulting in members leaving.
On the other side of the argument, those for nonsmoking posts say it will attract more members and make the post family-friendly.
Many posts took the leap and went smoke-free or made accommodations for smokers.
Lafayette, Ind., American Legion Post 11 enacted a nonsmoking policy about 10 years ago. At first, a few members got upset and transferred to another post. But members eventually became used to the change. “After the first few months of nonsmoking, most everyone accepted the fact that smoking was not allowed in the post,” said Jimmy Pitts, Post 11 commander. “We even gained some new members who hated cigarette smoke.”
The transition has been positive for Post 11. “The reaction now is that everyone loves that the post is smoke-free,” said Pitts. “No one is taking the smell of smoke to their homes. The atmosphere is great, and people are not hesitating to come into our post.”
Pitts recommends having designated smoking areas in place before initiating the nonsmoking policy. His post built a “smoke shack” – a shed away from the building – with a heater.
Green River, Wyo., American Legion Post 28 decided to have a smoke-free facility when it opened in 2014. Their goal was to make the post family-friendly and attract younger members who may not want to join a post where smoking was allowed.
Post 28 has always had a nonsmoking policy, so they did not have to deal with some of the opposition other posts have to deal with. In fact, all members seem pleased with the policy. “Our members, even our smoking members, are happy about the smoke-free status,” said Tammy Harris, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 28 secretary. “Our smoking members go outside to smoke without complaint.”
Harris said having a smoke-free environment makes it easier to host events for kids. “It is easier to bring families in, and we try to be a very family-friendly post home.”
In Harris’s personal opinion, being nonsmoking has helped membership numbers.
Vero Beach, Fla., American Legion Post 39 knew they needed to do something to keep both smokers and non-smokers happy. So, the post decided to create a patio where smokers could feel comfortable and still be part of the post.
Post 39 did not want to go nonsmoking until finding a way to keep smoking members comfortable and included. But it was not an easy feat. Because of legal parameters of the liquor license, they had to make sure the design was compliant. They wanted to make sure smokers could enjoy drinks on the porch, which is why they decided on a design that is fully enclosed.
The porch has been a big hit with smokers and nonsmokers. “Smokers seem to enjoy the patio so much that many of them spend the duration of their visit outside to socialize,” said Jennifer Trefelner, Unit 39 president. “Some nonsmokers would even go out to the patio to spend a little time with their friends who smoke. There were a few members who did not desire the change, but they still come to visit on occasion.”
Trefelner said they have seen an increase in membership. They’ve had almost 200 members join since making the change Dec. 31, 2018.
If your post home is considering going smoke free, common advice from others is to make a plan for the smokers as you make the transition.
This article was originally published in the May 2020 Auxiliary magazine.