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Some are burned up about Maryland's smoking ban

April 16, 2007

HAGERSTOWN - A new law that would prohibit people from smoking in bars, restaurants and private clubs has some members of fraternal organizations fuming.

"It's supposed to be United ... U.S.A. Why should you want somebody to dictate what you can and can't do? We're not communists," said Bob Keedy, who on Sunday sat at the bar of the Fraternal Order of Eagles on Locust Street in Hagerstown.

The Maryland General Assembly voted near the end of its session to approve a statewide smoking ban. The ban does not include an earlier proposal to exempt private clubs.

Though the ban's effective date isn't until next year, Keedy and other patrons of private clubs already are fired up.

Keedy said he gave up cigarettes years ago, but still enjoys an occasional cigar. For him, the ban is about free choice.

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"It's time for the people of this country to stand up ... and bear arms, if necessary," said Keedy, 58, who lives near Hagerstown.

At the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on East Washington Street in Hagerstown, members said they had survived shrapnel, enemy fire and the lingering effects of Agent Orange.

"A lot of guys, the last thing they had in their life was a cigarette," said Fred Munson of Hagerstown.

Munson said he quit smoking in 1982, but he opposes the ban.

"If you're supposed to die for your country, you should at least have the right to smoke in your own club," said Munson, a Vietnam War veteran.

A nonsmoker, James Renner of Greencastle, Pa., sat at the other side of the bar. He called the smoking ban "a fantastic idea."

"I don't smoke, and it's proven now that secondhand smoke will harm you," said Renner, one of only a few patrons at either club who voiced support for the ban.

Kelly Sullivan, 60, of Hagerstown, smoked Sunday at the Eagles bar, where patrons were watching auto racing.

"I feel that since this is a private club, we should be able to smoke here. If you don't like smoke, go somewhere else," Sullivan said.

Sullivan predicted the ban would hurt business, as well as the organizations that benefit from private clubs' gaming dollars.

"I think that would go down, too. I don't think you'd be able to raise as much money for charities," said Sullivan, who characterized the anti-smoking buzz as "scare tactics."

Like several other members, Sullivan said she could stop coming to the club once the smoking ban goes into effect.

Joe Forsythe, 60, of Hagerstown, was at the VFW post Thursday night, where he is a vice commander, and at the Eagles bar Sunday.

He echoed Sullivan's concerns about business, but the Vietnam War veteran said the ban won't stop him from enjoying the one thing that relaxes him - smoking.

"I'm going to keep doing what I got to do, where I want to do it, whether it's right or wrong," Forsythe said.

That includes smoking - even under a smoking ban.

"Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am. 'Cause that's my right," Forsythe said. "That's my right."

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