Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State's Smoking Law Effects Debated

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State's Smoking Law Effects Debated

Article excerpt

Pennsylvania's no-smoking law has too many loopholes that should be eliminated to protect more workers from the dangers of second- hand smoke, leaders of anti-tobacco groups told state legislators at a hearing in Pittsburgh Thursday.

Members of the House Democratic Policy Committee were urged to remove the exemptions in the nearly 4-year-old law that allow customers and employees in many workplaces -- including casinos, bars and private clubs -- to continue to light up.

"While Pennsylvania has a clean indoor air law, it is not comprehensive and fails to fully protect all its citizens equally under the law," Cindy Thomas, executive director of Tobacco Free Allegheny, testified.

Under the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, which took effect in September 2008 after more than a decade of legislative wrangling, bars can apply for an exemption if they don't allow anyone under 18 inside and if food accounts for 20 percent or less of overall sales. At the state's 11 casinos, half the gaming floor is exempt.

There is no doubt that the "witches brew" of chemicals in cigarette smoke causes cancer, heart disease and other ailments, testified Diane Phillips, government relations official with the American Cancer Society.

"Because there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, it's time to abandon these exemptions and protect people rather than protecting tobacco use," she said.

The hearing at the University of Pittsburgh's O'Hara Student Center in Oakland was requested by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, prompted in part, he said, by a story in the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette in April that raised questions about how well the smoking ban was being enforced. Mr. Frankel said he hoped the hearing was the first of many intended to spur changes in the law.

"Because of the many exemptions, our current law is hard to enforce, unfair to workers and unfair to businesses," Mr. Frankel said.

He said he had favored a total smoking ban but legislators had made compromises when passing the law in the face of fierce lobbying by casinos and taverns. But now, he said, it was time to make the regulation more uniform.

"We created two classes of citizens . …

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