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October 26, 2006

Smoking zone limits still up in the air

Pitt smokers remain in limbo as to exactly where they will be able to light up once Allegheny County’s new smoking ban takes effect Jan. 4.

Under the ordinance, passed by Allegheny County Council Sept. 26 and amended this week, smoking is banned within 15 feet of all entrances “of an enclosed area in which smoking is prohibited.”

However, at Tuesday’s council meeting, members could not agree on whether to drop the 15-foot requirement for non-health care facilities, an amendment proposed by County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. Instead, council returned that provision to its health and human services committee for further review.

In 1991, Pitt banned smoking in all University vehicles and inside its owned and leased buildings, including off-campus housing facilities. But the policy did not prohibit smoking near doorways. Pitt’s policy 04-05-03 also governs UPMC buildings.

County Council President Rich Fitzgerald, the primary sponsor of the ordinance, told the University Times that the 15-foot restriction probably would be reworded without a specified distance. “My sense of what is going to happen is that the committee will recommend changing the wording to not have the 15-feet distance and will instead say something like ‘cannot be in the doorway’ or ‘smokers cannot block the doorway or the entrance itself,’ because it would just be too hard to enforce a 15-feet distance uniformly,” Fitzgerald said. He expects the council’s health and human services committee will submit a proposal well before the ordinance’s effective date.

County Council this week amended the ordinance that initially called for a property-wide ban at all health care facilities, defined as “including, but not limited to, hospitals, clinics, physical therapy facilities and doctors’ offices.” Under the amendment, those buildings will have to restrict smoking within 15 feet of entrances.

Paul Supowitz, Pitt associate vice chancellor for commonwealth and city/county relations, said, “Our intention, of course, would be to follow the law. If it says 15 feet away from a building, then that is what we’ll follow.” But, for now, Pitt is in a holding pattern, pending action on the proposed amendment that could eliminate the distance requirements for non-health care facilities, he added.

Pitt has allowed smoking in proximity to entrances, something that has drawn the attention of the Senate benefits and welfare committee. Working with Facilities Management, last spring the committee posted at a few entrances “courtesy signs” — asking smokers to move a respectable distance away from high-traffic areas — as an experiment to see if smokers would move away from those entrances voluntarily.

Earlier this month, the benefits and welfare committee tabled discussion of adding signs to other buildings, pending final details of the county smoking ordinance.

According to Jay Frerotte, Pitt’s director of Environmental Health and Safety, Pitt is taking a wait-and-see stance for the time being. “It seems prudent to me to wait until the county regulation is further defined and enacted,” Frerotte said. “I believe that it is premature to speculate on the ramifications, [because] the exact wording of the final rule will be most important in determining impacts to Pitt and UPMC. I also think we’re going to need some guidance from the county on how to enforce this.”

Under Pitt’s policies and procedures, administrative officers are responsible for enforcing the 1991 smoking policy. Facilities Management is responsible for ensuring that signs comply with city-required specifications.

“Should the University continue to have enforcement responsibility for any smoking policy or law, in my opinion, enforcement is best conducted by the deans, directors and department chairs of the various responsibility centers,” Frerotte said.

According to the ordinance, the ban will be enforced by the Allegheny County Health Department and “any municipality’s designated law enforcement agency.”

“That potentially could include our campus police,” Supowitz said, “although to the best of my knowledge that has not been determined.”

The health department also will record and field individual complaints via a dedicated telephone line.

During the first 180 days following the ordinance’s effective date, first-time violators will be issued a warning, followed by a $250 fine for subsequent violations. After 180 days, all violators will be fined $250 per violation.

The new law also prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars, unless they employ 10 or fewer workers and food sales account for 10 percent or less of their revenues.

Other exceptions to the ordinance include licensed specialty tobacco shops, up to 25 percent of the units in public lodging establishments, and private residences, unless the residence also is used as a child care, day care or health care facility or operated as a business.

The smoking ban ordinance will be reviewed for its health and economic impact after 18 months.

Regardless of future amendments, which would need to pass County Council by separate ordinance, the smoking ban will go into effect in January, Fitzgerald said. “While we have some disagreement on some of the details, the ban itself is a done deal; it’s the law of the land, which is the most important thing in protecting the health of the majority of people in Allegheny County,” he said.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 5

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