Pa. Legislature passes smoking ban bill, sends to Rendell

HARRISBURG — The state Senate has broken a yearlong stalemate on a statewide smoking ban, approving a compromise bill Tuesday that would make Pennsylvania the 33rd state to outlaw smoking in many workplaces and public spaces.

The Senate voted 41-9, sending the bill to Gov. Ed Rendell to be signed into law in what supporters hailed as a step forward for public health and protecting people from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“The substance that we’re dealing with is dangerous to anyone who is exposed to it, even for a short period of time,” said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, the Montgomery County Republican who has tried for more than a decade to persuade Senate colleagues to approve such legislation.

Rendell, who has advocated a smoking ban as a way to reduce health care costs, has said he plans to sign the bill. Secondhand smoke is linked to numerous diseases, including cancer.

Opponents have derided the bill as big government playing havoc with small business owners, potentially hurting neighborhood taverns and eateries where people stay for hours, smoking.

It would take effect 90 days after being signed into law, banning cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking in restaurants, office buildings, schools, sports arenas, theaters and bus and train stations.

By no means will Pennsylvania’s law be the nation’s toughest: A dozen exemptions will ensure that smoking can continue at numerous bars and taverns, portions of casino floors, private clubs and elsewhere. In fact, Philadelphia’s year-and-a-half-old ban goes farther in some places, banning smoking in the two casinos that are planned on its waterfront.

Only Philadelphia’s ban, the only active local smoking ordinance in the state, can be enforced under the bill. All other counties and municipalities would be prohibited from enacting their own restrictions.

The exemptions prompted the American Lung Association to withhold its endorsement, while some other public health advocates grudgingly accepted the bill. Greenleaf and others who had pressed for the strongest possible bill also promised to return to it in the near future to strengthen it.

“We will live to fight another day,” said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny.

Deep divisions between the House and Senate delayed the bill, and demanded a year to resolve disagreements over the extent to which smoking would still be allowed in certain establishments and which local governments could enforce tougher local bans.

The compromise bill was fashioned by a joint House-Senate conference committee, which approved it last week, 5-1, before the House approved it, 163-38.

Tuesday’s vote was the second time the Senate voted on the plan. Last Wednesday, the Senate dealt it a setback, rejecting it, 31-19, in a raucous session led by Democratic senators who insisted that Allegheny County and Scranton be given the chance, like Philadelphia, to enforce a local ban that would be stronger than the statewide ban envisioned by the bill.

However, the House and the Senate GOP refused to budge on further changes to the bill, forcing Democrats to either kill the bill, or support it as is.

The bill was heavily lobbied and closely watched by casinos and bars worried about losing a reliable foundation of their clientele. The Pennsylvania Restaurant Association had supported the broadest possible ban to protect the health of employees who work all day in smoke-filled bars and dining rooms — but that didn’t stop individual restaurants from contacting senators to seek an exemption.

“Smoking” or “No smoking” signs would have to be posted just about everywhere, and fines up to $1,000 would be levied against repeat violators.