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Rendell signs statewide smoking ban

June 13, 2008 6:57:01 PM PDT
The idea was still in its infancy in 1993 when Sen. Stewart Greenleaf first introduced a bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to ban smoking in most public spaces and workplaces statewide. On Friday, Gov. Ed Rendell signed a Greenleaf bill into law, adding Pennsylvania to a list of more than 30 states to enact a statewide ban on smoking that includes restaurants.

Ashtrays will soon get tossed from break rooms, lobbies, hallways, offices and smoking lounges across Pennsylvania before the ban takes effect in 90 days.

Restaurant owners will have to tell longtime diners and barflies to light up outside, or separate the bar from the restaurant. Owners and employees of small businesses from machine shops to law firms who have smoked side by side for years will have to decide whether to change their habits or break the law.

"Smoking" or "No smoking" signs will have to be posted just about everywhere. Repeat violators could be fined up to $1,000. "Today, Pennsylvania state government will put the health and welfare of Pennsylvania residents first," Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, said at Rendell's signing ceremony, held in Ambler in his district.

Greenleaf's 1993 bill attracted just three co-sponsors, and never made it out of committee. He introduced the same, or similar bills, in every two-year legislative session after that, dutifully pushing them in the name of public health.

Getting the bill through this time was not easy. It took pressure from Rendell, who first advocated for a smoking ban in January as part of a platform to cut health care costs.

For more than 18 months, the legislation was nitpicked and beaten up in the Capitol, as casinos, bars and more pressed their case for an exemption. Second-hand smoke is tied to numerous diseases, including cancer, and protecting employees in smoke-filled rooms could reduce disease, proponents say.

To be sure, many Pennsylvania restaurants, hotels and other businesses, as well as state offices, have voluntarily gone smokefree in the years while Greenleaf toiled to build support for a smoking ban.

And Pennsylvania's law is not the nation's toughest: It is so riddled with exemptions that the American Lung Association withheld its endorsement.

Still, Rendell called the new law one of Pennsylvania's most important steps in public health in recent years. Its reach, and complicated exemptions, likely will create headaches for some business owners, although Rendell insisted the law will demand little change.

"I don't think anyone has much to worry about and I think there are a lot of employees in restaurants and bars, sports arenas and places like that that are breathing a deep sigh of relief right now," he said.

Some business owners disagreed.

Rob Fogleman, the owner of Garrason's restaurant and bar across the street from the Capitol in downtown Harrisburg, said he will consider laying off kitchen staff if he loses his late-night drinking crowd to the bars with limited food service, which are exempt from the smoking ban.

"I'm for a complete ban, but the playing field has got to be level, and this does not make it level on any account," he said. At MIF Inc., a coal-hauling business in Brockway in rural, northwestern Pennsylvania, co-owner Joni Paladino faces the prospect of admonishing drivers not to light up anymore in the company's trucks.

Then there are the two mechanics who are allowed to smoke while fixing the trucks at MIF's sister business, the Johns Garage and Parts, owned by her brother.

"It's a bit of an intrusion when there are four people and they're saying, 'Well you really aren't intelligent enough to handle this workplace situation yourself,"' Paladino said. "'The Legislature in Harrisburg will do it for you."'

Elsewhere, the segregated break rooms for employees who smoke at the 36 Redner's Warehouse Markets groceries across eastern Pennsylvania will soon be a thing of the past.

Owners of many restaurants that serve beer and alcohol say they are prepared to begin sending smokers outside. Alix Griffin, who manages Starters Pub near Bethlehem, said she expects new nonsmoking customers to boost business after the restaurant does away with its smoking section and ashtrays at the bar.

Worried about sustaining a devastating blow to their neighborhood businesses, tavern and bar owners lobbied hard for their exemption, and expressed satisfaction at how the battle ended.

Said Judith Willow, the owner of Willow's Tavern in Erie, "It's a sigh of relief that there's now a definitive order in place."

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Associated Press writer Randy Pennell in Ambler contributed to this report.

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