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Health

Panel to review anti-smoking law

| Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hosni Shadid, 24, has been smoking for six years and likes being able to have a cigarette in his favorite bars.

However, the Bellevue man supports a proposed ordinance by Allegheny County Council to ban smoking in workplaces -- including bars and restaurants.

"I think it will help people quit," the project manager for Mellon Bank said as he stood outside One Mellon Center, Downtown, on a smoke break. "A lot of people tend to start smoking when they're in bars, drinking alcohol."

Council Wednesday night voted to send an anti-smoking ordinance to its Health and Human Services Committee. Council will be on summer break for several weeks, but committee chairman Mike Finnerty, D-Scott, said he would convene the panel and make a recommendation by July 22.

Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, proposed the ordinance after a similar bill failed to clear committee in the state Legislature.

If passed, the ordinance would outlaw smoking in certain public places, workplaces and set fines for violations.

Fifteen states have banned smoking, but the degree varies, and 40 states have at least one county or city that has banned or limited smoking.

Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report detailing the dangers of secondhand smoke, stating there is no safe level of exposure. Patronizing smoke-free restaurants was recommended.

In light of that report and several others, the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association recently reversed its position and supported a statewide ban on smoking, said its president, Carlton owner Kevin Joyce.

However, Joyce said, support for the ban rests on a total ban in every establishment, with no special exceptions for private clubs or casinos.

"The key is a level playing field," Joyce said. "With a level playing field, there's less a chance of people taking their business elsewhere."

While he could see the ordinance's merit in protecting his employees' health, Jim Mitchell, owner of Mitchell's restaurant, Downtown, questioned why the government was telling a private business owner what to do.

"They're politicians, not businessmen," Mitchell said. "It would kill my businesses if my smokers who drink went to private clubs."

Tom Shelpman, 60, of Brookline, is a Mitchell's regular and enjoys having a smoke with his glass of beer.

"They're taking our rights away," he said.

Another patron, Zepp Rosselli, 31, of Brighton Heights, asked Shelpman "What about my rights?"

Shelpman replied, "You don't have to sit in a bar."

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