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Allegheny County Health Department eyeing total ban on restaurant smoking

Thursday, January 09, 2003

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Allegheny County Health Department is considering clearing the air at all restaurants in the county with a smoking ban similar to the ones now in force in New York City, Boston and seven states.

"We want to review the possibility of restricting smoking in the restaurants," said Dr. Bruce Dixon, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. "About 70 percent of the population doesn't smoke, and we want to investigate if we have the authority to prohibit smoking in restaurants."

Dixon told the county Health Board at its meeting yesterday in Duranti's Restaurant -- which has smoking and no-smoking areas -- that he would consult with county attorneys and put together a draft of a restaurant smoking ban regulation for the board's next meeting in March.

Several Health Board members said they themselves had been exposed to cigarette smoke "drift" from a bar or dining area recently despite sitting in a nonsmoking dining area.

"It's not just a smell issue but also a health issue. We still have to discuss whether the smoking ban should be for restaurants only or also include restaurant bar areas," Dixon said. "We have to see what's doable without being burdensome."

Jamie Petrolias, owner of Jamie's on the Square, Downtown, said any additional restrictions on smoking would hurt a restaurant economy that is already suffering.

"My restaurant, like a lot of restaurants, has a bar attached and people who patronize bars smoke. Banning smoking in restaurants would be another way of hurting restaurants," said Petrolias, whose restaurant on Market Square has been open for 15 years. "They're talking about a 10 percent drink tax, then you add on no smoking and where does that leave us?"

Dixon said the best way to institute a restaurant smoking ban would be to do it statewide. Such bans have been proposed in the Legislature, but successfully fought by the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association.

The state's Indoor Air Act of 1988 requires restaurants with more than 75 seats to provide a nonsmoking section. Pittsburgh has a slightly tougher smoking ordinance that requires restaurants with 50 or more table seats to have a no-smoking section, but the ordinance doesn't apply to restaurants where food sales don't amount to 80 percent of the establishment's revenue.

Some restaurants have banned smoking on their own. A Web site called www.NoSmokeDining.org lists about 100 smoke-free restaurants in Allegheny County, plus others in Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana and Westmorland counties.

John Barsotti, owner of the Common Plea, Downtown, and president of the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, said he was becoming resigned to a smoking ban.

"It's been adopted in several other cities and states and is something that's headed our way," said Barsotti, who allows smoking only in the restaurant's lounge but not its dining rooms.

"We're in the hospitality industry and we like to do whatever we can to make for an enjoyable dining experience. In our dining rooms we get a lot of negative feedback on smoking," he said.

"If smoking is banned everywhere in the county we'd be in favor of it because we'd be less likely to lose business."

Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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