It took 15 years for the law to win passage, and although it was a hard-fought victory, the measure was not perfect. It has too many exemptions -- for private clubs, casinos, bars that don't serve meals or that have separate restaurants, and other businesses.
If you think these categories don't amount to much, consider this from the American Lung Association: Statewide, there are 2,800 workplaces that allow indoor smoking under the law, including 382 in Allegheny County. In the city of Pittsburgh, the figure is 207, including the Rivers Casino.
Most of the exempt facilities are bars that get 20 percent or less of their business from the sale of food. Next are restaurants that have adjacent bars with their own ventilation, entrances and dining areas.
Right off the bat, casinos had permission to allow smoking on 25 percent of their gambling floors, but the law let them increase that to 50 percent as long as analysis from the state Revenue Department showed higher average revenue per slot machine in the smoking sections than in nonsmoking zones. That's bad enough for Rivers customers who can smell smoke no matter where they stand on the gambling floor. Imagine how toxic it is for employees who spend 40 hours a week in this environment.
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, the Montgomery County Republican who led the campaign for the current smoking law, is trying to eliminate most of the exemptions with Senate Bill 35.
The measure has two important features. First, it extends the indoor smoking ban to casinos, all bars, outdoor decks or patios that are part of a restaurant or bar, truck stops and residential facilities that are for long-term and adult care as well as mental health, drug and alcohol treatment.
Second, the bill would allow local communities to enact stricter rules than the state, setting the Pennsylvania law as a minimum for smoking restrictions, not the maximum.
The 2008 law protects many of its residents from secondhand smoke in the workplace, but removing most of its exemptions would create a meaningful ban.
It shouldn't take another 15 years for the Legislature to pass it.