Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bars Let Patrons Light Up despite 2008 Law Exemptions Allow Smoking at Many; Others Ignore Rules

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bars Let Patrons Light Up despite 2008 Law Exemptions Allow Smoking at Many; Others Ignore Rules

Article excerpt

The Rosecliff Tavern, a neighborhood bar and restaurant off the Parkway East in Monroeville, boasts several beers on tap, a full menu and seven giant flat-screen TVs.

On a recent visit, the U-shaped bar and adjacent booths were filled with lunchtime customers, some enjoying a smoke along with their meals.

Trouble is, no one should be lighting up at The Rosecliff.

Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act, which took effect in September 2008 after more than a decade of legislative wrangling, was supposed to protect employees and customers from the dangers of secondhand smoke by prohibiting smoking in most workplaces.

From the beginning, certain businesses were automatically exempted from the law, such as private clubs, certain truck stops and up to half of the gaming floor at casinos. The law also lets some businesses apply for an exemption to allow smoking, most notably bars, as long as food accounts for 20 percent or less of overall sales and no one under 18 is permitted to enter.

Hundreds of businesses across the state have been granted exemptions, with some 2,800 drinking establishments, cigar bars and tobacco shops holding an exemption at the end of 2011, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which is charged with approving the waivers. The American Lung Association estimates 60 percent of bars in Allegheny County are exempt from the law.

But the Rosecliff isn't one of them.

That hasn't stopped the bar from describing itself as a "smoking establishment" on its website. "We even have a cigarette machine in case you run out," the site said as of Friday.

Rosecliff owner Josh Parente said two weeks ago that he was "pretty sure" he had the waiver to allow smoking. "I would have to check that," he said.

The health department confirmed The Rosecliff does not have an exemption.

State Police Capt. Thomas Butler, director of operations with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, said he believes the vast majority of bars and restaurants are complying with the no- smoking law. Those that ignore the rules risk enforcement action, including fines and the possible suspension of their liquor license, he said.

It wasn't hard to find examples of other drinking establishments in Allegheny County welcoming smokers even though they don't have an exemption.

Take Lemonhead's, another neighborhood bar and restaurant. It, like The Rosecliff, promotes itself on a website called Barsmart as being smoker-friendly.

The Bethel Park establishment also is listed on a local website called Relylocal as smoker-friendly, inviting patrons to "Bring the family down to enjoy some homemade cooking! Or stop in and have a few at our smoking bar!"

In a telephone interview, owner Michael Lehmann said those listings were outdated.

"We're not a smoking bar," he said. "We were, but not anymore."

When asked why a woman answering the phone told a reporter that Lemonhead's does allow smoking, Mr. Lehmann replied that she was a new hire from Canada and was mistaken. "I caught her up front smoking," he said. "I said, '[You] can't smoke in this bar.' "

Several days later, a visit to Lemonhead's turned up a bar full of smokers puffing away, the air in the dimly lit room so thick that visibility was poor.

Across town in Lawrenceville at Stinky's Bar & Grill on Hatfield Street, smokers also are welcome and plentiful, considering the dozens of photos on the bar's website depicting customers smoking.

In one undated photo, several men are posing at a table, with a lit cigarette dangling from an ashtray. A children's high chair can be seen in the background.

After a smoking complaint was filed against Stinky's in September 2009, a liquor control investigation was launched, and the bar was cited and fined $300, Capt. Butler said. Another citation was issued to Stinky's in February this year, he said. That case is pending. …

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