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Pa. smoking ban draws mixed reviews

June 17, 2008|By DON AINES and JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- While widely publicized as Pennsylvania's smoking "ban," the Clean Indoor Air Act signed into law Friday by Gov. Ed Rendell has enough exemptions that some area businesspeople question how much of an effect the new law will really have.

"We're just going to wait and see what happens," said Beverly Hess, who works at VFW Post 695 in Waynesboro, Pa.

Several exemptions in Pennsylvania's smoking ban mirror those spelled out in Maryland's own Clean Indoor Air Act, which was signed into law 13 months ago. Like Maryland, smoking will be permitted in homes not licensed as child-care facilities, certain hotel/motel rooms and tobacco shops.

In Pennsylvania, smoking will be allowed at bars that take in less than 20 percent of their revenue from food sales.

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"The bar and tavern owners, I've talked to several of them, and they're pleased," said state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Waynesboro.

Among the pleased business owners is Bob Backer, who operates Blondies on Old Route 16 in Rouzerville, Pa.

"It gives us an opportunity to make a choice, and that's all we wanted," Backer said.

That choice is converting into a nonsmoking establishment or serving the limited amount of food needed to stay below the 20 percent threshold, Backer said.

Lawmakers "left the door open, so (establishments) don't go out of business," Rock said.

Rock said he wouldn't be surprised if rules became more restrictive in the future.

"I suppose that is possible, but once you look at the ban, you'll see it's a very, very significant ban. If you don't want to be around secondhand smoke, you have many opportunities and avenues not to be," said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg.

He said, "I know the places I frequent with my family, ... we won't have any difficulty avoiding secondhand smoke" once the law goes into effect in mid-September.

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"The responses to my office and to me, personally, were in favor of the ban," said Rock, who estimated that 85 percent of the e-mails and phone calls he received were in favor of the law.

Kauffman mentioned constituents contacting him in an "overwhelming fashion, in favor of some sort of ban."

"Most of my constituents would have been in favor of a stronger ban, actually," Kauffman said.

Tom Boock, owner of The Cottage Restaurant & Pub in Chambersburg, said it is a decision better left to businesses than government.

"It should be by choice. It shouldn't be government imposed," Boock said. "I made the choice (to go smoke-free) purely as a business decision."

State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin/Adams/York, agrees and voted against the bill. Rock and Kauffman voted in favor of it.

"The business should decide, not the government. That's how I've always felt," Punt said. "I'm all in favor of any place that wants to go nonsmoking, if that's their choice."

"It's just more government intrusion on the personal lives of people," Punt said. A mechanic operating out of his garage could not smoke in his business because it is open to the public, Punt said.

The directors of social, fraternal and veterans clubs will have to adopt a resolution and put it before the membership if the club is to allow smoking, Punt said. Any time such organizations open their doors to the public, renting out a hall for a reception as one example, no smoking would be allowed or the club could find itself liable to a fine.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports that 2 million Pennsylvania adults are smokers.

Going smokeless

The Cottage Restaurant & Pub went smokeless March 1, 2007, and business actually has improved, Boock said as patrons watched the U.S. Open playoff Monday.

"The first year we were nonsmoking, there wasn't a day that went by that someone didn't thank me for it," Boock said of the decision.

"What we like to say is 'smell the food, not the smoke,'" he said.

Blondies' dining room has always been nonsmoking, but the bar is frequented by patrons who are smokers, according to Backer, a member of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association.

"In my mom-and-pop bar, I'd say 80 to 85 percent of my clientele smoke," he said.

Backer said he plans to get copies of the paperwork needed to establish a business as being exempt, paying special attention to a section that refers to a dining room cordoned off by a separate entrance.

The Orchards Restaurant and Lounge in Chambersburg allows smoking in its two lounges, but that will end when the smoking ban goes into effect, said Michael Kalathas, one of the owners.

"We don't have any part of the business where we don't have food, so we'd be completely nonsmoking," Kalathas said. About 30 percent of the clientele smokes, he said, "but since a lot of other restaurants have gone nonsmoking, we're seeing a lot of smokers come here."

It might at first be bad for business, but, in the long run, Kalathas sees it as a positive move.

"New York and California are nonsmoking. I think we should be right there with them," Kalathas said. As in states with similar bans, patrons will have to go outside to light up, he said.

Smoking has costs other than health issues, Kalathas said, like holes burned in tablecloths and upholstery, additional cleaning and ashtrays to empty.

Bob Curley, who owns Rolling Mill Restaurant in Rouzerville, Pa., said he's unsure of how the ban will affect his business, which has an outdoor patio.

"We currently provide smoking and nonsmoking areas," Curley said. "They're sectioned off."




They're off the hook



Those exempted from Pennsylvania's smoking ban:

· Bars deriving less than 20 percent of their revenue from food sales

· Tobacco shops

· Private clubs like the American Legion, Owls Club and VFW, depending on votes by their membership

· Portions of casino floors

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