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Debate on statewide public smoking ban keeps smoldering

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By David Hunt

Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Randy Larson said he sees the benefits: cleaner air and a cleaner bar.

Joyce Bowen said she thinks smokers should light up where they please, as long as they're not bothering anyone.

Larson, the owner of the HomeTowne Tavern in Swissvale, Allegheny County, and Bowen, a bartender at Darby's Pub in Uniontown, Fayette County, are two voices in the debate over whether Pennsylvania should ban smoking in public places.

Though pending legislation died for lack of a vote last year, health advocates have continued pushing for change.

There are reports that legislators plan to revisit the issue during this voting session. Some people think that a smoking ban proposal under review in the city of Philadelphia, if passed, could be a step toward a ban statewide.

Pennsylvania Medical Society President William W. Lander told the House Health and Human Services Committee last week that his organization backs a ban. He said he is concerned not only with peoples' health, but the impact to the health care system.

"As smoking causes avoidable health issues, it drives up the cost of health care as utilization increases," Lander said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Lander isn't alone. Don Schumaker, communications director for the Pennsylvania Alliance to Control Tobacco, said his group wants legislators to take smoking ban bills back to the floor. The sooner, the better, he added.

"We're hoping that we're looking at reintroduction so it has time to really take off," Schumaker said.

Lander's testimony came just days after researchers at the California Air Resources Board announced findings that women exposed to secondhand smoke have up to a 90 percent greater risk of breast cancer.

Secondhand smoke is responsible for up to 73,400 deaths each year in America, the researchers found.

Banning smoking in Pennsylvania's restaurants and bars would save thousands of lives by cutting down on secondhand smoke intake and giving smokers reason not to light up, advocates say.

Bernard L. Pucka, executive director of the Allegheny County Tavern Association, believes a law banning smoking would hurt business.

"One of the things these people have to realize is that a tavern isn't a church," he said. "People go out there to have fun, to relax, to let loose. I guess smoking isn't a good thing, but there are still an awful lot of people in this country who smoke. It wouldn't be right to take it away from them."

For Bowen, a smoker herself, common courtesy would be a welcome compromise to a smoking ban. Bowen said she doesn't smoke in front of others without asking if it would bother them.

"You come in to relax," she said. "I think you should be able to have a cigarette."

Pucka agrees. "Most people are courteous. They won't fire up and annoy other people with a cigarette," he said.

Upgrading air filtering systems is another way to keep the air clean for those who don't smoke, Bowen said.

But at the HomeTowne Tavern, Larson's two filters aren't able to suck up the grime continually wiped from the bar area. Cigarette smoke is to blame, he said.

"It'd be a benefit if nobody smoked," Larson said. "It wouldn't bother me a bit, but I'm a nonsmoker."

Smoking bans have been enacted recently as near as Columbus, Ohio, and as far away as Italy.

State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican, proposed a measure last July that would ban smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars. Though debate among smokers, tavern owners and legislators quickly followed, the bill died when the session ended.

Stanley Mitchell, general counsel to the House's Health and Human Services Committee, said he doesn't know of any smoking ban bills introduced this session.

"I'm not aware of any right now, but I'm told there will be one," he said.

Philadelphia smokers may soon be unable to light up in public. City council members there are scheduled to vote this week on whether to pass a localized measure that would prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants.

A clause in the 1988 Clean Indoor Air Act allows Philadelphia, the state's only first-class city, to institute its own ban. The same law thwarted an effort by the Allegheny County Board of Health to develop a localized ban two years ago.

Mitchell believes that the vote in Philadelphia may influence any statewide changes proposed in Harrisburg.

 

 
 


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