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Bill Tries To Snuff Out Indoor Smoking Exemptions In Pennsylvania


A bill introduced by an Allegheny County state representative this week would prohibit smoking in all workplaces in Pennsylvania. The legislation, from Rep. Dan Frankel, would include all bars, casinos and private clubs, which are currently allowed to apply for an exemption from the state Clean Indoor Act.

Frankel, who convened a group of stakeholders on Wednesday at Hidden Harbor restaurant in Squirrel Hill, says these “loopholes” put the health of non-smokers at risk.

“For every angle, this should be a no-brainer,” he said.

As of the end of 2019, there were 1,866 indoor smoking exemptions; 374 were for establishments in Allegheny County. This information does not include the city of Philadelphia, which has its own indoor smoking ordinance .*

Dr. Franziska Rosser, a pediatric pulmonologist at UPMC's Children's Hospital, said that young patients who are exposed to the toxins of tobacco smoke suffer more ear and breathing infections, and asthma attacks. She said kids are at risk even if their parents don't smoke.

"How fair is it that someone who just wants to work, who just wants to get a paycheck has to bring home to their family cancer-causing chemicals?” said Rosser.

Thomas Hanzer, the former Pennsylvania state commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, said when the state first banned indoor smoking in 2007, he favored the exemption, which applied to clubs like his.

“I was wrong,” he said.

Hanzes said his VFW post in Mercer County is one of approximately 75 in Pennsylvania that have seen the benefits of going smoke-free. 

“Every one of these posts that have gone non-smoking, has taken, probably, an initial hit. But you know what? They get more and more members now,” he said. “They get more and more families now. They get more and more guests now. Because they went non-smoking.”

Frankel’s bill would also ban vaping in public places, which is currently permitted under state law. Allegheny County banned vaping in places where smoking is also prohibited in 2017.

*This post was updated with state data on indoor smoking exemptions on Feb. 14, 2020, at 11:14 am.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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