Pa. Lawmakers Target Indoor Smoking, Vaping with Worker Protection Bill
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Whether you’re a frequent slots player or the occasional casino-goer, you’re probably familiar with the distinct smell inside most Pennsylvania casinos: cigarette smoke.
“When they walk into a casino in Pennsylvania, they're just hit with that overwhelming stench. Sometimes it's shocking,” said Michael Danay, a casino worker of 20 years, and no stranger to secondhand smoke.
“It's every single day. You know, every single day we go through this. It’s rough,” said Danay.
Pennsylvania banned smoking inside public buildings like hotels and restaurants after passing the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008. However, there are exemptions for casinos, private clubs and some bars. Now, fifteen years after the law passed, Democratic state lawmakers say it’s time for an update to close the loopholes.
“Fifteen years ago, this commonwealth took an enormous step forward in ensuring that our workers are not forced to breathe in toxic smoke – it’s time to finish the job,” said Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Majority Chair of the House Health Committee.
Lawmakers and advocates, like Danay, say encouraging outdoor smoking at casinos and other venues is healthier and that it's been done before.
“When it came time to smoke, they would step outside. And then when they were done, they would step back inside. It's not that difficult,” said Danay.
After temporarily closing their doors in 2020, Pennsylvania casinos were able to reopen with universal masking and no smoking. But the COVID era policy did not linger.
“When they reintroduced it after COVID, that was the last straw,” said Danay.
Chairman Frankel agrees. He’s looking to put out the smoke, and vapor, for workers like Danay. He’s sponsoring House legislation to protect workers from secondhand smoke.
Frankel says House Bill 1657 has three main goals:
- Eliminate loopholes that leave workers exposed to secondhand smoke,
- Expand the law to cover e-cigarettes and fight the increase in vaping-related illnesses,
- Give localities the ability to enact smoke-free ordinances that are more protective than state law
“Pennsylvania’s workers should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck, but the data shows that’s exactly what’s happening. Why should somebody have to risk their health in order to keep a job,” said Frankel.
A primary concern with the legislation, brought to light during a Health Committee hearing Wednesday morning, is the impact the bill could have on certain small businesses, like cigar bars and lounges.
Chairman Frankel says the legislation will need bipartisan support, which could mean making compromises with Republicans to support certain small businesses.
“There's an opportunity to talk about those businesses. At the end of the day, we have to do everything possible to maximize good public health policy in Pennsylvania, and that's the goal of this,” said Frankel.