Editor’s note: There were 115 bills signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019. That’s just a fraction of the more than 2,800 bills introduced in the state House or Senate during the legislative session. This ongoing series explores some of the proposals circulating at the Capitol that haven’t gotten much attention elsewhere.
HARRISBURG — It’s been more than a decade since the state banned indoor smoking in most locations. Now, advocates want to close the loopholes that allow smoking in a handful of places including the state’s casinos and private social clubs.
Legislation to close the indoor smoking loopholes was introduced in the state House on Feb. 12. The state’s casino industry doesn’t welcome the proposal.
“Our current law says it’s OK if some people are at risk of getting sick. Well, that’s not OK with me,” said state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County, the author of House Bill 2298. “In the 11 years since we banned smoking in most workplaces, it has become even more clear that exposure to second-hand smoke is a health risk that nobody should be asked to take.”
Frankel’s legislation would close the loopholes found in the Clean Indoor Air Act, including those that allow smoking in outdoor spaces, cigar bars, cigar lounges, casinos, private clubs and drinking establishments.
The American Lung Association in January released a report giving Pennsylvania a “D” grade for the strength of the smoke-free workplace laws in the state.
The Lung Association was one of the health advocacy groups that welcomed Frankel’s legislation saying that, if enacted, it would be “pivotal step forward.”
Neighboring states like Delaware, Ohio, New York and Maryland have stronger indoor clean air laws, including bans on smoking in casinos, said Emma Watson, Pennsylvania Government Relations Director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
“There is no safe level of exposure, whether you’re in a casino for 10 minutes or you’re an employee working a 10-hour shift,” Watson said.
A spokesman for Penn National Gaming, which operates the Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg, said that gamblers will vote with their feet and their pocketbooks.
“As members of the hospitality industry, we seek to accommodate the needs of both our smoking and non-smoking customers through the use of state-of-the-art ventilation systems, extremely high ceilings, and through adequate separation of smoking and non-smoking areas,” said Eric Schippers, a Penn National Gaming spokesman. “It’s a balance and one that we feel the marketplace should determine, particularly in such a competitive environment with other gaming facilities nearby and in neighboring states.”
The casino industry in New Jersey commissioned a study, which concluded that a smoking ban at the casinos in that state would cost almost 3,400 jobs.
“Shortly after a casino smoking ban went into effect in Atlantic City in 2008, the local city council suspended the ban noting the negative impact it immediately had on the resort city’s casinos amid the country’s flailing economy,” he said. “Today, the ban suspension is still in effect.”
The measure has been referred to the Health Committee, but no vote on it has been scheduled.
Watson said the health groups think the effort may get momentum, particularly since younger people are becoming less tolerant about encountering smoking in establishments.