Allegheny County Democrat Rep. Dan Frankel is introducing the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act to prohibit smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos.
Fifteen years to the day, Pennsylvania signed into law the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008. The idea was to eliminate smoking in indoor public spaces. PA casinos fell under an exemption in the act, which did not require them to fully ban smoking.
With Frankel’s help, casino executives across the state have been under scrutiny lately. Parx Casino’s facilities, in Bensalem and Shippensburg, are the only casino establishments where smoking is prohibited indoors.
Now the majority chair of the health committee, Frankel details the legislative process to eliminate smoking in PA casinos.
What Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act includes
The Clean Indoor Air Act had loopholes installed where casinos in Pennsylvania did not have to prohibit smoking. PA casinos are able to designate 50% of the gaming floor to smoking sections.
Frankel told PlayPennsylvania the latest bill has not been formally introduced yet in 2023. When it is, the bill will close most loopholes within the Clean Indoor Air Act, with the exception of cigar bars. The Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act would close the exemptions on the following venues:
- Private clubs
- Home day care centers
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) bars
- Bars that do not serve food (or 15% of sales or fewer is from food)
Any sort of e-cigarette and vaping would also be prohibited in the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act.
Steps to pass a smoke-free PA casino bill
There are numerous steps to pass any bill through the legislative process, let alone the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act. Frankel explained to PlayPennsylvania the steps involved to pass this legislation:
- Circulate a piece of proposed legislation among colleagues and ask to co-sponsor
- Introduce bill and Speaker of House refers it to committee
- Committee chairman decides to hold bill or run it through committee
- Sent to House floor with affirmative vote
- Pass it on the House floor
- Send to Senate to go through above steps
- Send to Senate floor
After the bill gets through those steps, it then goes to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk for final approval.
“Everything I know about Josh Shapiro, he will be supportive,” Frankel said.
Hearings to take place in fall 2023
One of the most important steps in the legislative process is the hearings conducted in front of the health committee, which features casino workers.
“Casino workers seem to be much more engaged,” Frankel said. “There had seemed to be a reluctance in the past because they were concerned about keeping their jobs if they stood up and became advocates.”
“When you make the argument to my colleagues that people shouldn’t have to choose a good-paying casino job with benefits while jeopardizing their own health, that resonates with folks.”
Frankel said that the hearings would take place around the fall of this year. The location has not been determined, but Frankel’s team had discussed hosting them in Southeastern Pennsylvania to be closer to the Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) workers, who are fighting to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos. Frankel said he might even use CEASE workers to testify in front of the health committee.
PA casino secondhand smoke bill is gaining support
Frankel has a much better feeling this time around that the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act is going to get passed. It did not pass through legislation last year. There is a ton of support, most notably from the American Lung Association and American Heart Association, along with other public health advocates.
Frankel also noted that many of the organizations who lobbied for the exemption in 2008 have changed their minds.
“For instance, the VFWs lobbied very hard to have the private club exemption back in 2008,” Frankel explained.“Today, that same group is lobbying to have those exemptions removed.”
Many restaurants and bars exempted from the bill have reversed course to ban smoking.
“It ended up being good business and we know it’s good business, even just for restaurants,” Frankel said. “Who the hell wants to be sitting next to someone smoking a cigarette or cigar while you’re spending 50 bucks on dinner?”
Frankel is determined to get this done, as it may not be long before casino employees and customers enjoy a smoke-free environment.