Allegheny County representatives call for statewide indoor smoking ban for workplaces | Pittsburgh City Paper

Allegheny County representatives call for statewide indoor smoking ban for workplaces

Ten years after banning smoking in most indoor spaces, Pennsylvania lawmakers now want to include the thousands originally exempt.

click to enlarge Allegheny County representatives call for statewide indoor smoking ban for workplaces
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
The Veterans of Foreign Wars clubhouse in Morningside is one of hundreds of establishments in Allegheny County where state law allows people to smoke inside. Though Pennsylvania passed the Clean Indoor Air Act in 2008, there were thousands of exemptions for establishments in the hospitality industry (mostly bars).

But the VFW in Morningside recently banned smoking inside its post, and VFW representatives are hoping more will follow suit.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania VFW commander Thomas Hanzes spoke at the Morningside VFW and called on state lawmakers to end the exemptions and ban smoking inside all workplaces. He says VFW members have already voted to support this step and many other posts are joining Morningside.

“Just like at this post in Morningside, many VFW posts throughout the commonwealth have already taken this stand,” said Hanzes.

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) has been pushing to remove exemptions from the Clean Indoor Air Act. This would effectively ban smoking inside in workplaces. Frankel said that ending exemptions is about fairness for employees and patrons.

“If you work in most businesses in Pennsylvania, your lungs are protected,” said Frankel. “But if your job is one of the more than 1,700 that have asked to be exempt from the law, you’re not. It’s been a decade. We know the law works. Let’s make it work for everyone. All Pennsylvania workers have a right to breathe free.”

According to the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, more than 400 drinking establishments in Allegheny County allow smoking indoors. But Frankel said that number is shrinking and even private clubs, who were initially against smoking bans, are changing their tune.

“Today, they recognize that it is time,” said Frankel.

Frankel noted removing the exemptions has bipartisan support. Former state Rep. Matthew Baker (R-Tioga) smoking-ban bill introduced in 2017 garnered co-sponsor signatures from seven Republicans and 13 Democrats.

“It was bipartisan when we passed it in 2008 and there is Republican and Democratic support now,” said Frankel. “If we got a bill to the floor of the House, I am confident, it can move forward. I think there is no excuse. We can’t leave employees and patrons without clean air.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also spoke at the press conference and supports the workplace, indoor smoking ban. In 2006, Allegheny County passed a smoking ban that was eventually challenged and struck down in court. State law does not allow municipalities, except Philadelphia, to pass local smoking bans.

Fitzgerald said state lawmakers need to remove the exceptions for the health concerns of Allegheny County residents.

“We made the decision to act on a county level because of our residents and on their behalf,” said Fitzgerald. “This is no exception. We cannot meet our goal of becoming the healthiest county in the country when employees are still exposed to tobacco smoke in their workplace.”

Franziska Rosser, a doctor at Children’s Hospital, said employees who work at establishments with indoor smoking don’t have the ability to escape the harm brought caused by secondhand smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2.5 million nonsmokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke since 1964. Rosser also noted studies have shown smoking bans are good for business.

“They are forced to work in an environment that is unhealthy,” said Rosser. They have the right to breathe safe air. We shouldn’t be in the minority, we should be leaders. We should move forward to eliminate these exemptions.”