Push is on to strengthen PA Clean Indoor Air Act

Written by Matt Paul | Mar 3, 2014 4:12 AM

Photo by Matt Paul/witf

Republican state Representative Mario Scavello of Monroe County

(Harrisburg) -- Advocates are putting their muscle behind the latest proposals calling for the elimination of exemptions in Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act.

As part of our Transforming Health project, it's been more than five years since the law was enacted. The state's indoor smoking ban dates back to 2008.

It was the result of a long-fought and often heated effort to protect public health.

When he signed the bill, then-Governor Ed Rendell said the day will come when an even more comprehensive Clean Indoor Air Act will be the law of the land, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Harrisburg thinks the time is now.

Representative Mario Scavello, a Monroe County Republican, says today's General Assembly is much different than it was back then.

"You had some people in leadership positions that were smokers that really were trying to stop it in any way they can...many representatives on the floor that were smokers," he says. "I think that number is slowly declining." 

Pennsylvania's smoking law allows exemptions for private clubs, bars, casinos, some hotel rooms and truck stops. Nearly 2,700 exemptions have been granted by the state Department of Health, including 63 in Dauphin County and 72 in York County.

These exemptions were hard fought -- as each industry tries to accommodate its customer base.

At Hollywood Casino in Grantville, Dauphin County, spokesman Fred Lipkin says patrons who prefer to smoke play up to twice as much as those who don't.


Photo by Matt Paul/witf

"We have customers of both sorts and if we are allowed by the state to accomodate both our customers that enjoy smoking and also have areas where smoking is prohibited for the non-smoking customers, we do that," he says.

Casinos received an automatic exemption on 25 percent of their gaming floor, and are allowed to expand it to 50 percent if they can show revenues are higher in the smoking sections. They all have.

Scavello's bill would nix almost all of those exemptions, and the American Heart Association is making it a top priority.

Government Relations Director Jen Ebersole says no longer would there be two classes of workers -- those protected from second-hand smoke, and those who aren't.

"We've heard time and time again from different people, and even some of our decision-makers, 'Well, they can choose to work elsewhere,'" she says. "You know, but really, the reality in today's society not everyone has the pleasure to choose where they want to work."

Ebersole says the Surgeon General's 50th anniversary report, last month, showed that enacting comprehensive smoke-free laws is the most effective approach to reducing cardiovascular events.

Twenty-four states have them, and she wants to see PA become number 25.

In addition to closing exemptions, Scavello's bill would extend the smoking ban to restaurant patios or outdoor dining areas, as well as e-cigarettes.

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