Valley workers, owners say ban isn’t choking business

The air finally is clearing in bars, restaurants and clubs, a year after a state law was enacted to ban smoking in public places.

“I’m sure a lot of bars have lost business over that,” said Lola Nobilese, referring to the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act.

Nobilese, who manages Mulligan’s Clubhouse Grille in Harmar, added, “There are a lot of people who say that they come because they can smoke downstairs.”

“The Clean Indoor Air Act is clearly an improvement because it is saving lives and saving money in Pennsylvania,” said Joy Blankley-Meyer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Alliance to Control Tobacco (PACT).

Jessica Jordan of Lower Burrell enjoys a cigarette Thursday in Mulligan’s Clubhouse Grille in Harmar — where smokers are directed to its bottom floor pub or, in good weather, its outdoor deck. Nonsmokers can enjoy a drink or a meal in the upstairs dining room and bar.

Jessica Jordan of Lower Burrell enjoys a cigarette Thursday in Mulligan’s Clubhouse Grille in Harmar — where smokers are directed to its bottom floor pub or, in good weather, its outdoor deck. Nonsmokers can enjoy a drink or a meal in the upstairs dining room and bar.

A lifesaver

Blankley-Meyer was referring to results of a recently released air quality study commissioned by PACT comparing air quality at 17 bars and restaurants before and after the ban. The study found the post-ban air improved by more than 80 percent.

“That study determined that (the law) will save the lives of 52 hospitality workers annually just by breathing cleaner air,” said Stacy Kreideman, spokesman for the state Department of Health. “It is estimated that diseases related to tobacco cost the state about $5.2 billion a year in health care costs.”

While anti-smoking groups are happy with the Clean Indoor Air Act, they are not completely satisfied. The reason: people can still smoke in some public places.

“The other way to look at it is that there are several exceptions in this law and that causes some workers in the hospitality industry not to be protected, and we want everyone to be protected,” said Blankley-Meyer.

She said state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, who was the prime advocate for the law, already has introduced a bill to close the remaining “loopholes” allowing smoking indoors.

Cost and effect

In the meantime, bars and restaurants are coping with the current law as they try to attract smokers as well as nonsmokers.

“We’re just lucky we are able to do both,” Nobilese said.

Mulligan’s directs smokers to its bottom floor pub or in good weather, its outdoor deck. Nonsmokers can enjoy a drink or a meal in the upstairs dining room and bar. Each has its own ventilation system and entrances as the law requires.

All that was in place before the law was passed and took effect on Sept. 11, 2008. That date also was the deadline for restaurants to make modifications to completely separate the cigarette discount and nonsmoking sections and receive an exception under the law.

But not everyone was that fortunate.

Cary Rigatti, owner of the Creighton Hotel in East Deer, said he had to make slight modifications to keep smokers and nonsmokers in his customer base.

He said he had to install a door to separate the nonsmoking dining room from the smoking bar area along with some ‘no smoking’ signs, but the cost was minimal.

“We were pretty much done except for the door,” Rigatti said.

Rigatti prohibited smoking until the modifications were made. As he result, he said he lost some smoking customers but thinks it now has evened out.

“One thing that happens for sure is (smokers) don’t stay as long because they get tired of walking in and out of the door,” Rigatti said. “For some of those guys, they were out of the building more than they were in the building. I think our smokers are happier about it now.”

The renovation cost was higher at The Carriage Inn in Lincoln Borough in southeastern Allegheny County, according to Judy Gibala, general manager.

The Carriage Inn sectioned off about 25 percent of its large bar/dining room with a glass enclosure and separate ventilation to create what the employees call “the fish bowl” for smokers. The cost? About $21,000, Gibala said.

“Actually, I think it may have helped us because people tell me they come in here because they know they can smoke in here,” Gibala said. “We didn’t lose business that we would have lost to other places where they would have been able to smoke.

“Have we recouped our money? Heck no.”

No big boom

Because private clubs basically are exempt from the smoking ban, one could assume smokers likely created a boom in club memberships. But those contacted for this story said that is not the case.

According to Jerry Pellish, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge in New Kensington, “We’re running about the same. I don’t think we lost any to that and we didn’t gain either. It hasn’t gone either way.

“We try to limit the back room so that there is no smoking and that’s been going pretty good,” he added. “That’s for social events. We play darts back there and we have a dance every Saturday night.”

He said the club’s smokers and nonsmokers seem to have a peaceful coexistence.

“They get along for the most part, nobody complains about anything,” Pellish said. “There are a couple of people who smoke cigars and that annoys some people. Some cigars smell worse than others.”

For those who think the state is not being vigilant about the law, Kreideman of the state health department advises them to think again.

She said the department has issued 1,100 warning letters to businesses during the past year but only eight citations. Businesses that receive a citation are subject to a $250 fine for the first offense.

Kreideman said the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement also has been active in enforcement.

“I can tell you that, according to our most recent data, the LCE has issued more than 250 citations and more than 250 warnings,” Kreideman said.

source: pittsburghlive.com

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