Last month a very restrictive non-smoking ordinance went into effect in Pennsylvania. The Clean Indoor Air Act, signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, went into effect Sept. 11.
Restrictive smoking bans have cropped up all over Europe in recent years. Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and New York, also have their own versions of a Clean Indoor Air Act. The Pennsylvania act bans smoking in most public places: restaurants, stores, workplaces, most bars, specific areas of casinos, theater and performance venues, designated sports and recreation areas, and even in some private homes. The smoking ban exempts private homes, unless they are being used for child care, adult care or a health care facility.
Although the law does not mention college campuses, and there is no language in the law specifically mentioning outdoor spaces, a key provision is being used to ban smoking outside on all public colleges and universities. A factsheet on the law can be found here.
The law prohibits smoking in places where the public is invited to attend and in educational facilities. This clause has been used by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to ban smoking anywhere on the entire campus including all outside areas – even sidewalks and parking lots. According to PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall, “The conclusion we came to is that the entire campus is an educational facility. Some classes and other activities and events that are educational in nature are held outside and we didn't think it was practical to prohibit smoking in one area and not another and on one day, but not the next.”
Proponents of total smoking bans see this ban as a public health issue that overrides individual liberties especially with concerns for second-hand smoke. Opponents argue that smoking is merely the “gateway” civil right that once lost paves the way for the loss of other civil rights. Additionally, opponents argue that proponents of total smoking bans really don’t want to outlaw cigarettes or smoking because it would mean a big loss of state tax revenue. They say that these kinds of bans demonstrate political correctness run amuck!
Students on all Pennsylvania campuses have organized daily “smoke-ins” to protest the ban. Dissenters are raising campus safety and fire hazard concerns and are asking for designated smoking areas. Students have to walk great distances to get off campus in order to smoke a cigarette and this presents a danger to students especially at night. Some students might risk sneaking cigarettes into their dorm room and that could be a fire hazard. Some students may begin to create a community nuisance because they are going off campus and gathering in front residences to smoke on private property.
Two organizations representing campus employees have threatened legal action against the ban.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, which represents 2,500 system employees, and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) plan to file an unfair labor practice suit, arguing that to prohibit smoking without negotiations first violates employee contracts.
There is a $250 fine for a first offense and a $1,000 fine for a third offence that occurs within 12 months. Currently colleges and universities do not have enforcement responsibilities and violations must be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health or the county Board of Health. So some warnings have been issued but there have been no fines imposed. Most likely campus police will be asked to enforce the ban sometime in the future.
A Widener student native to the Ukraine, Andriy Bashta, noted that smoking bans are unknown in the Ukraine – formerly part of the Soviet Union.
One Tobacconist recounts the difficulty he has had to go through just to be able to smoke in his own store. He also brings to a head the controversy over the right to smoke.
I do not think a democracy based on the value of human freedoms should so easily take away human freedoms. So, I continue to believe that all retail Tobacconists are great American freedom fighters... underdogs on the front lines of a great battle for justice. Not just smokers rights, but all individuals rights, in our pursuit of happiness. Smoking is the 'gateway' civil right, and it has been demonized and beaten into submission.