State legislators in Pennsylvania are considering a bill that would close a long-standing loophole in the Clean Air Act, potentially leading to a ban on smoking in casinos and various other public establishments.
The issue was discussed in a legislative hearing where supporters and opponents of House Bill 1657, which seeks to address the exemption of casinos from the 2008 Clean Air Act, presented their arguments.
Representative Dan Frankel, a Democrat from District 23, sponsors HB 1657, which was the focal point of the hearing. After the hearing, Frankel, alongside the American Lung Association and casino employees from across the state, expressed concerns about the impact of second-hand smoke on workers' health.
"We are on the path to creating strong legislation that protects our workers so they're not put in the impossible position of choosing between their paycheck and their health," stated Frankel.
Representative Dan Frankel
Opponents of the bill argued during the hearing that a smoking ban could negatively affect small businesses and the overall economy. Some even contended that casino employees willingly choose to work in a smoking environment.
For their part, supporters of HB 1657 challenged this claim, arguing that it's not a genuine choice for those who must decide between their income and their health.
The American Lung Association highlighted hospitality employees are locked in a culture where their health is not considered with great weight, stating: "Unfortunately, casino bar and restaurant workers are more exposed to toxic second-hand smoke in their workplace compared to other workplaces in the United States."
HB 1657 must successfully pass through the House Health Committee before it proceeds to the House of Representatives for a final vote, according to Frankel.
This discussion comes 15 years after Pennsylvania introduced its partial smoking ban in public places, and it aims to close the exemption that currently allows smoking in casinos and certain other establishments. Throughout the year, concerns have been raised about the health effects of second-hand smoke on casino workers who breathe it in during their shifts.
While representatives of the state's gambling industry did not provide testimony during the hearing, some business owners outside the gaming sector expressed concerns about the potential repercussions of a tobacco smoking ban. Effects ranged from a drop in patronage to the possibility of business closures.
For his part, Frankel referenced a National Institutes for Health study, conducted after the Clean Indoor Air Act became law in 2008, which projected that six out of 10,000 casino workers would die annually from heart and lung diseases due to exposure to second-hand smoke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of health problems such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The issue is complex, with some businesses, like cigar bars, expressing concerns about the potential negative impact of a smoking ban on their operations. However, advocates for the bill argue that the move would protect Pennsylvania workers from the dangers of second-hand smoke, citing the experiences of 22 other states that have already enacted full indoor smoking bans.