A local legislator aims to snuff out smoking, and the use of the increasingly popular electronic cigarettes, on restaurant decks, hotel rooms and other places that are now exceptions from the state's smoking laws.
State Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, recently introduced House Bill 1485, which he says would strengthen the Clean Indoor Air Act by eliminating the exceptions, and allowing local governments to create their own smoke-free ordinances.
The changes are aimed at saving lives, he says.
"While one end of the cigarette, cigar and electronic cigarette is suicide, the other is murder. That's because the effects of secondhand smoke have proven dangerous to all who are surrounded by it," said Scavello.
"We shouldn't be requiring employees in casinos, bars and other industries to face health risks associated with secondhand smoke any longer; now is the time to adjust our current law," Sacvello sai d at a June 5 press conference in Harrisburg.
The proposal has deep roots for Scavello.
"For me, it's personal," he said. "My father and father-in-law died of cancer. Unfortunately, this year in Pennsylvania, there will be 11,000 new cases of lung cancer and 7,600 deaths from this disease. We shouldn't be requiring employees in casinos, bars and other industries to face health risks associated with second-hand smoke any longer."
The amendment would eliminate the exceptions to the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, which was enacted in Sept. 2008 and which bars smoking in public places. The amendment would add to the list of public places bars with 20 percent or less revenue from food sales; casinos, up to half of the gaming floor; private social clubs; hotel rooms; tobacco shops and cigar bars; and truck stops with shower facilities.
The proposal also would prohibit smoking on the decks, patios, or other outdoor service areas of bars or restaurants.
"In addition to creating confusion and making it difficult to implement the new law, these exceptions also create an unbalanced market for businesses. Many small businesses have been negatively impacted by the exceptions because some are not eligible for an exception where another very similar business is eligible and can allow smoking. In addition, these exceptions leave some individuals unprotected from secondhand smoke," Scavello wrote in a May 13 memorandum to House members.
He believes the bill would be good for Pennsylvania.
"The Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008 was a landmark achievement for public health across Pennsylvania," he said. "However, like many laws, it was a compromise and has room for improvement. I am hopeful that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support and update this law to help protect the health of all Pennsylvanians and visitors of our Commonwealth. I'd like to begin discussions on the bill in the fall and hope to pass it early next year. It will likely be opposed by casinos, taverns and the tobacco industry."
Scavello's bill also includes the increasingly popular electronic cigarettes.
"While the e-cigarettes produce lower levels of toxins in the air for nonsmokers to breathe than the conventional cigarette, there are still elevated levels of toxins released, averaging around 20 percent of what the conventional cigarette puts into the air," he said. "While not as polluting as a conventional cigarette, the e-cigarettes are putting detectable levels of several significant carcinogens and toxins in the air. No one should have to breathe these chemicals, whether they come out of a conventional or e-cigarette."
The proposal would allow local communities to adopt their own smoke-free ordinances.
"The adoption of this legislation will provide Pennsylvania with a truly comprehensive smoking ban law. We would join 25 other states with comprehensive smokefree laws. This measure is supported by the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and Smokefree Pennsylvania," Scavello wrote in the May 13 memorandum.
Scavello's bill, which has 14 co-sponsors, was referred to the House Human Services Committee, which has yet to act on it, on June 13. The co-sponsors are state representatives Dan Frankel, D-Allegheney; RoseMarie Swanger, R-Lebanon; Dan Truitt, R-Chester; Mark B. Chen, D-Philadelphia; Maria P. Donatucci, D-Delaware-/Philadelphia; Michael H. Schlossberg, D-Lehigh; Paul I. Clymer, R-Bucks; Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne; Thomas P. Murt, R-Montgomery/Philadelphia; Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery/Philadelphia; Mark Painter, D-Montgomery; Patty Kim, D-Dauphin; John T. Galloway, D-Bucks; and Mary Jo Daley, D-Bucks.
Scavello says he expects some opposition to his proposed changes.
"Some business owners with establishments that still allow indoor smoking feel it could be bad for business since many people enjoy being able to smoke inside when they're having a cocktail, or playing a casino game," he said.
Lesley Smith of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said the group would decline comment.
"This is not an issue for which we are or have engaged, so we will decline comment for that reason," she said.
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau did not return a request for comment.
Dan Hugos, president of the Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency, believes Scavello is on the right track.
"At a minimum, financial common sense says we have to reduce the amount of money spent by the public on healthcare, so we have to face the issues fair and square. In the case of second-hand smoke, as taxpayers we pay for public exposure to someone else's unhealthy habit, and that costs the government untold billions," he said.
"The cheapest solution by far has always been to take preventative measures, and this is one of them. The rest of the industrialized world has long recognized this, and doesn't spend nearly what we do on healthcare. There's no reason for this. Americans have to move past the notion that they can have it both ways, and make a choice an intelligent, not emotional, one. As a result, I would definitely support this new law," Hugos said.
Popular concert venue Penn's Peak, Jim Thorpe, currently allows smoking on its deck, which is just off its Roadies' restaurant, and its patio. It's much easier for concert-goers to catch a smoke on the deck rather than have to leave the premises and then go through the process of having their hand stamps scanned to get back in.
"I think we're cautiously optimistic that the legislation won't pass, and we'll cross that bridge if and when we have to address it. If I had to guess, I think that the people coming to the shows in the concert hall would be most affected," said Craig Stelling, vice-president/promotor of Penn's Peak.
Some local legislators weighed in on the bill.
"In 2008, I strongly supported Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act that prohibited smoking in most workplaces and public areas. And, I believe the law continues to be a strong deterrent to the hazards of second-hand smoke in over ninety-five percent of public spaces," said state Sen. John T. Yudichak, D-Carbon/Luzerne/Monroe. "The inaction on House Bill 1485 in recent legislative sessions underscores the legislation's far-reaching impact on businesses currently exempt under the law."
His Republican counterpart, state Sen. David G. Argall, also shared his thoughts.
"This is a vital public health issue and I agree with Rep. Scavello that it is time to review all of the exemptions contained in the current law," he said.
State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill-Berks, said he thinks "the law, as it stands, provides reasonable protection for minors and the general public. Businesses already have enough restrictions placed upon them. Our current law allows any business to make their establishment smoke-free if they choose."
Individual opinions vary.
Former smoker Warren Searfoss of Beltsville opposes the expansion.
"I just quit smoking last March. The smell of smoke now bothers me. But if a restaurant has an outdoor deck so their patrons can smoke, why not? I have no problem with it. This whole anti-smoking thing is getting a bit stupid.... In California, you can not even smoke in your back yard if your smoke goes over into your neighbor's yard. These really radical anti-smokers should not even be driving anything but a electric car, because their cars' pollution is going everywhere. I made a vow that if I quit smoking I wasn't going to turn into one of those radical anti-smokers. That would be rather hypocritical of me," he says.