Allegheny County Council passes smoking ban
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Allegheny County Council last night voted overwhelmingly to prohibit smoking in restaurants, bars and other workplaces, moving the legislation into the hands of the chief executive for approval.Alyssa Cwanger, Post-Gazette
South Side smoker: Bartender Stacie Steenson of the South Side pours a drink while Mika Nazworth, 37, of Mount Washington smokes at The Smiling Moose on East Carson Street last night. Ms. Steenson said of the non-smoking ban: "This will really hurt. I'm worried we may have to cut down on the number of employees here. People will have to lose jobs."
Click photo for larger image.
"We're going to go from the smoky city to a smoke-free city," council President Rich Fitzgerald said when he introduced the legislation.
The ordinance passed on a 14-to-1 vote.
Mr. Fitzgerald said that county Chief Executive Dan Onorato will get the bill by Friday and will have a week to make a decision. Council appears to have enough votes to override a veto.
Mr. Onorato said he plans to approve the no-smoking ordinance as long as it didn't contain "too many exemptions."
He previously indicated that he'd prefer a statewide ban to a local one, said his spokeswoman, Megan Dardanell.
If the rules aren't applied throughout Pennsylvania, "let's at least make sure it's an even, level playing field in Allegheny County," she said. "Don't pit one business against another."
The ordinance exempts specialty tobacco establishments and allows hotels and similar lodgings to set aside 25 percent of their rooms for smokers.
Council amended it last night so that nonprofit organizations can apply for a waiver to allow smoking at fund-raisers. However, the nonprofit is limited to 12 waivers per year, and minors would not be permitted to attend the event.
Another amendment broadened the scope of the ban. Under the ordinance, smoking would not be allowed on property adjacent to and owned by a health-care facility.
Cindy Thomas, executive director of Tobacco Free Allegheny, who was already pleased with what she considered to be a strong bill before the changes were made, welcomed that addition.
"One of the things we've been working on is trying to get hospitals to have smoke-free campuses," she said. "That will be very challenging, but not impossible. It does take some work."
While some fear the ban could be bad for business, Ms. Thomas expects that its economic impact will not be that dramatic. She recently returned from a vacation in Italy where she saw many people smoking in the streets.
"But there's a complete ban on smoking in restaurants, bars, public conveyances, all of those sorts of things," she said. "You get used to it. The norm changes and people become accustomed to a different way."
The sole vote against the ordinance was cast by Rich Nerone, D-Brookline.
"I'm a little concerned about passing legislation when you start taking rights of individuals away," said Mr. Nerone, who is a non-smoker. "I honestly believe this is a state issue and should be taken care of at the state level."
During the public comment period, council members heard many health statistics and personal pleas in support of the ban. Fewer than a fifth of the speakers opposed it.
Council's affirmative vote was greeted with applause.
"I'm very proud that council stepped up, took action on a very difficult issue and did a lot of work," said Mr. Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill.
First Published September 27, 2006 12:00 am