WILKES-BARRE — Arguing that Pennsylvania’s 2008 Clean Indoor Air Act is outdated and less effective than laws in neighboring states, the Breathe Free Pennsylvania coalition is pushing for an update to the law that restricts smoking in public places.
Is there another state with the ideal law they would like to see enacted here? “Can I say anyone but us?” coalition manager Brad Cary said during a meeting with the Times Leader Editorial Board Tuesday.
The coalition is comprised of some heavy hitters, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Geisinger Heart Institute Chairman of Surgery Dr. Alfred Casale, who writes a weekly health column for the Times Leader, joined Cary and American Heart Association regional communications director Larissa Bedrick in pitching the need for tighter controls on smoking in public places.
Cary and Bedrick pointed to a recent survey conducted by Susquehanna Polling & Research that showed a large majority of Pennsylvania’s registered voters — 71 percent — support broader restrictions on smoking. The support runs across regions, party lines and liberal/conservative ideologies, according to the survey data.
The results of the poll, coupled with growing evidence that businesses where all smoking is banned often suffer little or no economic loss, prompted the coalition to launch a push for the law’s update, Cary said.
New bills in the house and senate would eliminate many exemptions to the 2008 law, including exemptions allowing smoking in casinos and restaurants. The bills would keep exemptions for homes and vehicles, tobacco shops, cigar bars and designated outdoor areas of sports, recreational, theater or performance establishments.
According to Breathe Free, there are 2,498 exemptions statewide, and 165 in Luzerne County — the second highest among the state’s 67 counties.
The coalition also wants to see e-cigarettes included in the ban.
Cary and Bedrick said the idea that second-hand smoke from smoking areas can be removed from air circulating in a building is a myth. “There is still this misconception you can clean the air,” Cary said.
“The technology doesn’t exist,” Bedrick added.
While Cary and Bedrick stuck mostly to survey results and what they argued is growing evidence the laws reduce heart attacks without negative economic impact on most businesses, Casale admitted he was there for “moral support” and struck more to the figurative heart.
“If we make a list of the 50 things we know 100 percent unequivocally — and that’s probably all we know unequivocally — the fact that smoking is bad for you in a multiplicity of ways is right at the top,” Casale said.
Conceding that e-cigarettes may not hold all the carcinogens released by burning tobacco, Casale said the nicotine in the vapors is still very dangerous. “It’s like saying, if you’re going to be shot in the head, do you want 22 caliber or 45 caliber. It’s sort of a bad choice.”
And noting the percentage of adults who smoke has dropped by more than half in the last 50 years — from around 40 percent to less than 17 percent nationally — Casale predicted the issue of banning smoking in public places is becoming generational.
Opposition to further restrictions “is probably, in the course of time, going to be a losing battle,” Casale said. “It’s inconceivable that in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, this drop from 40 percent to 17 percent isn’t going to go into single digits. At some point society is going to say ‘we don’t care, we’re not going to do this for three percent’. We’re not going to tolerate the risk to community health for three percent (who smoke).”