Legion goes non-smoking

Membership divided over issue

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Hundreds of Home Depot volunteers converged on American Legion Post 201 in Alpharetta in November to upgrade many of its aging facilities – new flooring, lighting and landscaping were just some of the upgrades.

In the three months since new HVAC and lighting were installed, Legion Commander Martin Farrell said the electric bill has dropped nearly in half.

“Our gas bill is down as well,” Farrell said. “They did an amazing job.”

A side effect of the renovations cropped up shortly after they finished.

For Post 201’s entire 40-year history, smoking has been allowed, both in the dance hall and the bar. When the dance hall went smoke-free fairly recently, the bar held out. With new ceilings and walls, the leadership chose to make a move to stop all smoking in the post.

“We were at a critical juncture,” Farrell said. “With all the new mechanicals, infrastructure and ceiling tiles, we were going to address the smoking issue. We thought this was the moment.”

The change was not universally popular; however it was approved in a 2-1 vote of the membership.

“Some [members] understood it was the right thing to do,” Farrell said. “Others were not happy about not being allowed to smoke.”

The vote was in December, but the ban did not take effect until this year, when a new covered deck was completed.

Farrell said he was trying to make the post more family-friendly. Smoking was stopping many family members from taking part in Legion events.

Younger generations of soldiers and their families are less likely to smoke, Farrell said. To have a Legion post that not only allows smoking but is literally coated in 40 years’ worth of smoke makes it difficult to welcome them into the group.

“It was the right thing to do at this time,” said Fred Swyters.

Swyters himself was a smoker. He chose that moment to quit. And he is not alone.

Many of the smokers have taken the chance to change their lifestyles, either quitting smoking altogether or moving on to electronic cigarettes.

Dennis Turner smoked a pack a day for more than 50 years. He said he is not happy with the ban but accepts it nonetheless.

“You have to live with what the membership votes for,” Turner said. “I’ll have to adjust, but I don’t have much choice.”

He is now trying to quit smoking.

Turner said he has dramatically cut down on the number of cigarettes he smokes, often not having more than one a day. He cracked during the wintery weather, though, having one after spending 10 hours in the car.

“I’m giving up. I’m doing my best,” he said. “It’s hard to do.”

Despite some discontent, there has already been an upturn of new members.

“These are young members who quit because they or their wife didn’t like smoking,” said Swyters.

Kim Oliver, president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary for Post 201 said the move is a great one.

The Auxiliary has met in the bar every third Tuesday of the month for years. The smoky atmosphere has harmed participation.

“People stopped coming because of the smoke,” Oliver said. “There were so many smokers in here we couldn’t handle it.”

Burning eyes and the smell of smoke in hair and clothing were often complaints from the ladies.

Oliver said she expects to see the membership in the Auxiliary grow with the new move.

“Everyone is happier,” she said. “We’ve had one meeting since the change and there was a noticeable improvement. We could breathe.”

American Legion Post 201 is located at 201 Wills Road in Alpharetta. It is part of the nation’s largest veterans organization with more than 2.4 million members across America. For more information, visit www.legion201.org.

RN 03-06-14