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Editorial: Local control / If the state won't act, the county should ban smoke

Publication Date: 7/11/2006
  • Publication:Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nothing could more clearly express the need for smoke-free workplace laws than the U.S. surgeon general's report last month that said no level of exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke is risk-free and no ventilation system or filter eliminates the toxin.

A dozen states, including New York, New Jersey and Delaware, have prohibited puffing in the workplace, and a Pennsylvania-wide workplace proscription adopted by the Legislature would be best to protect this state's residents. But Pennsylvania lawmakers are just blowing smoke on the issue. They can't even get a smoke-free workplace bill voted out of committee for consideration by a full chamber.

That leaves Pennsylvania's cities and towns to ban butts themselves. But exactly what they can do is obscured by a smokescreen of legal mumbo jumbo.

In 1999, the Legislature repealed the "pre-emption clause" in the 1988 Clean Indoor Air Act that had prevented towns from passing smoking rules more strict than those in the state law. But then, the following year, the Legislature repealed that repeal.

State law also says, however, that if the Legislature repeals a repeal, the language in the original law is not revived. So some lawyers said the pre-emption clause remained dead. But others contended that because the original repeal was never actually implemented, the pre-emption remained alive.

Clearly, there's nothing clear here. Still, Allegheny County's solicitor has told SmokeFree Pennsylvania that a smoke-free workplace ordinance that it has petitioned County Council to pass would be illegal and shouldn't be considered.