NORMAN — Some residents at the Norman Veterans Center and six other centers across Oklahoma are smokin’ mad that Gov. Mary Fallin and some legislators are poised to ban cigarettes at the place the veterans call home.
Jim Milnes who lives at the Norman Veterans Center blamed it all on the governor.
“I don’t think it is any of the governor’s damn business,” he said. “She will be running for governor next year, and I am not going to vote for her.”
“This nursing home is my home, and I should be able to smoke here,” Wilnes said. “Smoking is the only enjoyment some of these veterans still have.”
Sen. Frank Simpson, of Ardmore, acknowledged Thursday that he and two other legislators had reached an agreement with the governor’s staff, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) and the War Veterans Commission.
Lawmakers are advocating that only a partial smoking ban would be in effect until 2015, with a total ban not occurring until Jan. 1, 2018.
Veteran residents who now smoke would be grandfathered in, allowing the centers to permit smoking in a designated area until Jan. 1, 2015. For the next four years after that, the veterans could smoke in designated areas outside the building until 2018.
“The governor supports moving to a smoke-free environment because she knows it will save lives and improve the health of both residents and employees at veterans centers,” said Alex Weintz, her spokesman.
“At the same time, she recognizes the unique position that veterans at these facilities are in. She also has tremendous respect for their service,” he said.
“If I had my way, I would let the veterans smoke,” Simpson said.
But he said that last year, neither the governor nor the ODVA took steps to implement the executive order.
Concerns over a smoking ban arose following Fallin’s executive order in 2012 that forbid smoking on state property.
Last year, the state War Veterans Commission that oversees the ODVA voted that it would not implement the governor’s executive order. The governor’s office apparently determined that the ban would have to be placed into a statute. Technically, the ban would take effect on Nov. 13. After that, the veterans centers would be allowed exceptions for the next five years.
The ODVA itself has expressed concern over the smoking ban. Public information director Shane Faulkner provided a statement Thursday from the ODVA regarding the ban.
The agency thanked the governor and lawmakers “for listening to the veterans currently in our centers in their requests to be allowed to smoke in their homes.”
“We look forward to receiving official word from the Governor’s office on what accommodations will be made for those residents who choose to smoke.”
Simpson said he figured an agreement could be reached because lawmakers met with all parties before announcing an agreement.
“They didn’t talk to me,” said Milnes, who added that probably seven fellow veterans out of 25 in his section smoked, as did probably nine of the 25 in the adjoining area.
Simpson said out of the 1,400 residents at the centers, less than 250 are smokers. It is not clear as to whether veterans accepted as new residents in the future would have to be nonsmokers before they would be admitted.