Across Pennsylvania, smoking ban becomes law

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Pennsylvania's statewide smoking ban, 15 years in the making in Harrisburg, became law today.

Cindy Thomas, executive director of Tobacco Free Allegheny, has provided answers to these questions about the new law, which bans smoking in most public places and is aimed at making the state's workplaces smoke-free.

What penalties does a person face if he or she is caught smoking in a place where smoking is prohibited?

The Clean Indoor Air Act provides for the following penalties:

The owner, operator or manager of the premises may be penalized for failure to post proper signs. Each offense can bring a fine of $250 to $1,000.

An owner, operator or manager may be penalized the same amounts for allowing smoking where smoking is prohibited.

A person, either a patron or an employee of the premises, also may be penalized for smoking, with fines of $250 to $1,000.

How should a business owner or patron respond to someone who is smoking in a prohibited area?

The business owner, manager or operator is expected to inform patrons that smoking is no longer permitted. The manager should ask the patron to either extinguish the cigarette or to step outside to smoke.

The first complaint about an establishment will generate a letter that says you have been reported for not being in compliance with the Clean Indoor Air Act and will include how to get more information about the new law. If subsequent violations occur, you could be subject to a penalty or fine.

If someone sees a person smoking in a place where smoking is banned, what would you recommend a person do?

Politely say that there's a new law prohibiting smoking indoors, and politely ask the person to extinguish the cigarette or step outside to smoke. If the person refuses, it would be appropriate to have the same type of conversation with management. If you've talked to the manager and did not get an appropriate response, it is logical to lodge a complaint against the establishment with the state Health Department.

How does the law apply to private clubs?

Private clubs may vote to permit smoking, when the club is open for members, their families and guests. But when the public is invited to an event that is advertised as open to the public, there must be no smoking for the entire club for the event. Examples of private clubs open for public events include bingos, pancake breakfasts or fish fries. The club also cannot permit smoking if the club is leased or used for a private event that is not club-sponsored.

The rules for private clubs also apply to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue companies. The state Department of Health Web site has answers to other questions about private clubs.

How does a person know whether a tavern is smoke-free or not?

Everyone has to have a sign. If your establishment is granted an exception you must post a "smoking permitted" sign. All other places must post "no smoking" signs.

Is smoking prohibited in bus shelters?

Smoking is prohibited in mass transportation stations that are fully enclosed. But an outdoor bus shelter is not enclosed on all sides, so smoking is permitted there.

Who will enforce the state smoking ban in Allegheny County?

The lead state agency responsible for enforcement of the Clean Indoor Air Act (Act 27) is the state Department of Health. It has identified other agencies that will participate in collaborating with them in enforcing the act. At this point, the DOH's point of focus is on education. Any complaints about establishments violating the law will be addressed through a letter to the establishment providing them information about the law and what they must do to be in compliance.

The Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Act is complex in the area of enforcement. The DOH has been working with numerous agencies since the act was signed and licensing agencies such as the departments of Aging, Agriculture, Welfare, the Gaming Control Board, the state Liquor Control Board, the state police and the Bureau of Liquor Code Enforcement. Under a standardized enforcement protocol, complaints are to be sent to DOH via its Web site, the Help Line or through the mail. Additional information on enforcement will be provided at a later date.

If someone wants to register a complaint they can either leave the complaint on the DOH Help Line at 1-877-835-9535, or go to the DOH Web site, www.health.state.pa.us, and fill out a complaint form.

How do people get more information about the Clean Indoor Air law?

Call the DOH Help Line or access its Web site. A person also can call Tobacco Free Allegheny at 412-322-8321 or visit the Web site www.tobaccofreeallegheny.org.


Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept. 12, 2008) The Clean Indoor Air Act, which went into effect yesterday in Pennsylvania, includes fines for people smoking where it is not allowed. The fines, which were omitted from this story as originally published Sept. 11, 2008, range from $250 to $1,000, the same as the amounts for businesses that fail to obey provisions of the law.


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