Pennsylvania Anti-Smoking At Casinos Bill Proposed Again

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Pennsylvania is once again considering the elimination of indoor smoking in its commercial casinos.

Allegheny County Rep. Dan Frankel (D) has introduced House Bill 1657 this week. This legislation aims to close the smoking exemption in the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008, which currently allows smoking in casinos and other commercial facilities.

Last year, Frankel also unsuccessfully pushed the same legislation. Smoking is currently allowed inside in some form in 16 of the 18 Pennsylvania casino venues.

“I have reintroduced my legislation to close the remaining loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act, banning smoking in all workplaces,” said Frankel in a Pennsylvania House of Representatives press release.

“Nobody should have to choose between their health and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”

Gamblers in the Keystone state who want to avoid tobacco smoke entirely can also visit any of the dozens of legal Pennsylvania online casinos.

To Smoke or Not to Smoke?

The push for this legislation was inspired by the temporary relief from indoor smoking during the COVID-19 pandemic, when mask mandates were in place.

Once these mandates were lifted, most casinos resumed their previous smoking policies.

The new bill targets not only casinos, but also other venues such as private clubs, home day care centers, hotels, Veterans of Foreign Wars bars, and bars that generate less than 15% of their sales from food.

Support for the bill is strong among health experts and advocates. The PA Coalition, which includes representatives from the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, released a statement expressing gratitude to Representative Frankel for his commitment to ending indoor smoking in public places.

The coalition also says that casinos that prohibit indoor smoking not only prioritize public health, but also perform just as well financially.

Eliminating Jobs

That is a counter to the argument often set out by the pro freedom of choice camp, that turning casinos into fully nonsmoking ventures loses customers.

Such a stance was taken earlier in 2023 by newly appointed New Jersey casino workers union leader Donna DeCaprio.

The Unite Here Local 54 leader literally namechecked casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania that allow smoking, while talking about why New Jersey casino venues will not go entirely smoke-free.

“We support and defend a worker’s right to work in a safe environment,” she said.

“However, a total smoking ban would eliminate thousands of lucrative jobs and probably lead to the closure of one casino.”

Casinos in Pennsylvania are a oughly $480 million-a-month market. That means upwards of $50 million a month in taxes going to state coffers.

Smoke-Free Attraction

Frankel, though, does not believe that a smoking ban will lose out on a significant amount of customers.

“Pennsylvanians should not have to choose between their jobs and their health. Despite a growing body of evidence suggesting that smoke-free environments attract more customers — not fewer — these businesses have not banned smoking on their own,” he said.

The Pennsylvania House Rep has outlined the legislative process for his proposed bill. It will be a longterm effort which involves circulating the idea among colleagues, introduction in the House, committee review, and a vote on the House floor.

After these steps, the bill will move to the Senate for a similar review process before it can become law. Frankel is optimistic about the bill’s passage, believing that the argument for protecting casino employees’ health while ensuring they have good-paying jobs will resonate with many of his colleagues.

The effort is part of the ongoing discussions around the U.S. about indoor smoking in casinos. In June of this year, the Rhode Island Senate President was widely criticized after he made disparaging remarks about anti casino smoking campaigners in a podcast interview.

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