Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Senate smoking ban is full of exceptions

Senate smoking ban is full of exceptions

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- The state Senate voted last night to ban smoking in most public places and workplaces in Pennsylvania, but senators included exceptions where the ban won't apply, including smaller bars, private clubs, cigar bars and portions of casinos.

The vote on an amendment laced with exceptions was 29 -21. Including so many loopholes angered Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, the prime sponsor of the smoking ban. He was so upset that he wasn't sure if he'll even vote for the amended bill when it comes up for a final vote today.

"I am torn because of all these exceptions, which will expose thousands of people to secondhand smoke," he said. "No one challenged the medical or scientific evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous. There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke."

He said Pennsylvania should follow the lead of many other states that have passed strict smoking bans. "Philadelphia passed a smoking ban a year ago and it's proven to be popular," he said.

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, denounced the amended bill as "a disgusting, gobbledygook bill. It's a tragedy. We need to protect employees as well as patrons" of all workplaces.

Sen. Connie Williams, D-Delaware, said the Senate "should not give people a watered-down, weakened bill. It really isn't a smoking ban if it has all these exceptions."

Another important aspect of the bill is that it prevents counties or cities from passing their own smoking bans.

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, who originally favored a bill with no exceptions to the smoking ban, said he reluctantly voted for the amended bill.

"It was clear to me that we didn't have the 26 votes needed to permit no exceptions to the ban," he said. When he realized he couldn't get such a strict bill, he decided that "some smoking ban was better than no ban."

Sen. Charles McIlhinney, R-Bucks, sponsor of the amendment, said it was a question of "weighing individual liberties vs. public health and welfare."

He added, "It's not a perfect bill, but it's a compromise." He insisted the exceptions wouldn't apply to too many workplaces or social gathering places.

Groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association favored the strict ban on smoking, while private clubs, volunteer fire halls, "mom and pop bars," casinos and tobacco industry officials said government shouldn't intrude into how such places run their business.

The Senate will take a final vote on the amended smoking ban today, and then it goes to the House. The House also has its own bill to ban smoking in public places and workplaces, which it might vote on later this week and send to the Senate. It's questionable whether both chambers will vote on an identical bill before recessing for the summer on Sunday.

The places where smoking would still be allowed include adults-only private clubs, such as American Legion, Elks, Moose, Amvets and similar fraternal groups; and "cigar bars," defined as establishments with liquor licenses "that are physically connected and directly adjacent to a tobacco shop." Some cigar bars also offer food.

Smaller taverns, defined as those where the foods sale are less than 20 percent of total business, could also continue to allow smoking, as could volunteer fire and ambulance companies, individual rooms at nursing homes and residential treatment facilities, exhibitions of tobacco products and "cigar fund-raisers," which are events held by nonprofit, charitable groups to raise money.

Mr. Greenleaf didn't like the loophole for cigar bars, saying he fears there will suddenly be a huge increase in so-called cigar bars as regular taverns simply put in a small humidor containing cigars and then claim they're exempt.

Mr. Greenleaf also didn't like the loophole that allows for smoking in 25 percent of a gaming floor at casinos. He said it's physically impossible to prevent cigarette smoke from drifting from the smoking area over to the nonsmoking areas.

The original bill submitted by Mr. Greenleaf also provided for very limited exceptions, allowing smoking in private homes (as long as they weren't used as day care centers), retail tobacco shops, tobacco warehouses and up to one-quarter of hotel/motel rooms. Those are still contained in the amended bill.

(Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254. )

Source: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07177/797200-114.stm


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