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September 21, 2023

Secondhand smoke can cause deadly health issues, but Pennsylvania casinos can still permit smoking

New legislation would amend the state's Clean Indoor Air Act to prevent the use of cigarettes and vaping at all gambling facilities, private clubs and bars

Adult Health Smoking
Pennsylvania Smoking Casinos Kaysha/Unsplash

New legislation would amend Pennsylvania's indoor smoking ban to cover casinos. Secondhand smoke can cause coronary heart disease, lung cancer and stroke, and result in premature death.

Pennsylvania banned smoking in most indoor public spaces 15 years ago, but the law included loopholes that permit smoking on casino floors, in private clubs and at some bars. 

New legislation would amend the state's Clean Indoor Air Act to bar smoking in those places. It also would expand the state's smoking ban to include the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. 

Rep. Dan Frankel, the Allegheny County lawmaker behind the bill, said it will protect casino and club workers from secondhand smoke, which can cause coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, and result in premature death.

The Clean Indoor Air Act bans smoking in most public spaces in Pennsylvania, but exceptions allow about 1,800 businesses in Pennsylvania to permit smoking. Though most bars have been smoke-free since the law went into effect, those where food makes up less than 20% of sales can apply for exemptions, including in Philadelphia, which has its own smoke-free ordinance

"Fifteen years ago, the 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," Frankel said. "Pennsylvania's workers should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck, but the data shows that's exactly what's happening." 

A study conducted shortly after the Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect found secondhand smoke-induced heart disease and lung cancer would kill 6 of every 10,000 casino workers annually – five times the death rate from Pennsylvania mining disasters. Research also shows smoke-free policies do not have an adverse effect on the hospitality industry, nor do they harm small businesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Frankel's bill is one of several recent efforts to close the loopholes in Pennsylvania's anti-smoking law. Last year, Frankel and Sen. Jay Costa introduced a similar bill, arguing that pandemic-era bans on smoking did not keep people away from bars and casinos once stay-at-home orders were lifted. 

"We have all seen the evidence firsthand: smoke-free casinos are not just a breath of fresh air for us workers, but they are proving to be winners for the industry," said Jennifer Rubolino, co-founder of CEASE PA, a group of casino workers that support smoking bans. "Parx Casino and Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment are leading the charge with smoke-free venues and industry-leading profits. This isn't just a local trend — casinos across the nation, from the Las Vegas strip to tribal gaming venues, are embracing smoke-free policies." 

The American Lung Association, which advocates for smoke-free public spaces, gave Pennsylvania a "D" rating earlier this year for its efforts to reduce smoking and tobacco use. It criticized the Clean Indoor Air Act for its loopholes. It also was critical of the state's funding levels for tobacco control efforts and its lack of cessation services.

According to the American Lung Association, 28 states, including Delaware and New Jersey, have laws that ban smoking in most or all public spaces. 

New Jersey's law contains loopholes that allow smoking in portions of Atlantic City's nine casinos and in cigar bars. A bill introduced earlier this year in the New Jersey legislature would remove the casino exemption.

New Jersey's anti-smoking law took effect in 2006. It was amended in 2019 to prohibit smoking in the passenger drop-off and pick-up areas at New Jersey airports. 

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