Some Pennsylvania businesses aren't too happy about a proposed smoking ban
Supporters of a proposed ban on indoor smoking in Pennsylvania say cultural changes could help the proposal become law where past attempts failed.
The plan, introduced by Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Tioga County, is more stringent than a similar proposal that was introduced in the House in 2015 but never received a vote. Baker's proposal would eliminate all exemptions to the 2008 Clean Indoor Air Act, which lets individual bars, casinos, clubs and hotels allow smoking under certain conditions.
The 2015 proposal faltered after members of the House Health Committee amended it to let people smoke at casinos and private clubs. The amendments, which would have preserved support of the casinos and the tax revenue they generate, alienated a group of health-focused organizations that had been some of the measure's strongest supporters, said lawmakers and the organizations.
Baker said in an email Tuesday that he hopes "personal experiences as to the devastating health and financial costs" among legislators and the public will help his bill, HB 1309, become law.
But some resistance to a smoking ban in Pittsburgh-area bars remains.
"It's my business; why are they telling me what to do," said John Karwoski Jr., owner of Karwoski's Tavern, a South Side bar that allows smoking.
Karwoski said the large number of bars that allow smoking give patrons and hospitality workers plenty of options to avoid smoke if they want to.
"Everybody has choices to make," he said.
Susie Rusak, bar manager of Boot's Inc. in Brackenridge, said her customers choose Boot's because they can smoke there. She opposes changing the law.
"That's just not good. We're doing well with what we do. We have non-smokers that come in and complain about the smokers, but we also have smokers that come in and say they only come here because we allow smoking. I'm opposed to all of it," Rusak said.
A handful of bar patrons said Tuesday that they object to the government forbidding them from smoking at bars that allow it. Some said they might choose different bars, or just stay home, if they couldn't smoke in the bars they now frequent.
"There are people like me who like coming here," said Tony Lambert, 48, of the South Side, who was smoking at Jack's. "If it's non-smoking, I wouldn't be here anymore."
Steve Kopy, owner of Kopy's Bar on the South Side, which allows smoking, said he thought the state government overstepped its bounds with the 2008 law, but that allowing some places and not others is unfair.
He said a greater share of his customers are now smokers than before the ban, and some tell him they come there specifically because they can smoke. Nonetheless, he expects he wouldn't lose business if smoking were prohibited.
"If they can't smoke anywhere, then they're still going to go out and drink," he said.
Kopy said he supports the new proposal as a way to "level the playing field."
Health advocacy organizations say they are pushing the measure to protect the health of workers who are exposed to secondhand smoke, which is associated with heart disease and cancer.
Concerns over employee health won the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association's support for the 2008 law, said Kevin Joyce, who was president of the association at the time and now sits on its executive board. Joyce owns the Carlton Restaurant in Downtown Pittsburgh.
The association had opposed new restrictions on what business owners could do, but a study finding negative health effects among nonsmoking Las Vegas casino workers conducted in 2005 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health changed the group's perspective, Joyce said.
He said Baker's proposal would be a welcome protection for employees.
"You're basically saying that their lives don't matter," he said. "And their lives do matter; we need comprehensive legislation that protects all employees in their workplaces in Pennsylvania."
He said he hopes the measure will pass, but that he has seen similar proposals fail since 2008.
"It never goes anywhere … it's really something that needs revisited," he said.
Supporters of the bill said they expect opposition from casinos and gaming organizations. A Rivers Casino spokesman said no one was available to comment Tuesday.
Gene Ney, who owns Gene's Place in Oakland, said sales have increased by about $1,000 per month since he stopped allowing smoking last summer.
Ney said he made the change to suit his clientele — college students who smoke much less than students of the past. Longtime customers who smoke a lot still come to the bar.
He said his own health has improved — he has more energy, gets sick less often and no longer coughs up mucus.
"What it's done now is welcome in a bunch of people who would never come here in the first place," he said.
Reporter Matthew Medsger contributed. Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, email@example.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.
Allegheny County Clean Indoor Air Act Exemptions (2015)
Source: Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center - 2015 Data