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PA Receives Sub-Par Grades for Controlling Tobacco Use

A major report shows that the commonwealth falls short when it comes to reducing risks associated with tobacco use.

Scranton, Lackawanna County -- It's common to see smokers like Brittany Boyd of Scranton take their tobacco habit outdoors in Pennsylvania. While smoking a cigarette Monday afternoon outside the Mall at Steamtown on Lackawanna Avenue, she doesn't consider smoking indoors an option. "Well, I smoke outside regardless."

But smoking indoors in public places is an option in Pennsylvania at several locations including casinos and some taverns. The American Lung Association wants to see that change. "We're hoping that in all public places where there are people who work for a living that these will become smoke-free," said Tony Delonti who is a program specialist with the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania.

The American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2014 report gives Pennsylvania mixed grades at best when it comes to tobacco control. The commonwealth scored F's in funding for tobacco prevention and control programs and cessation coverage while grading a C in both cigarette tax and smoke-free air. While the F's are a major concern for Mr. Delonti, he's most troubled by one of the C's. "What we're concerned more with are the other people who are affected by the secondhand smoke."

Non-smoker Darlena Maslar of Scranton weighed-in on the secondhand smoke issue while in downtown Scranton. "People should not have to be subjected to that. It's a shame." Ms. Maslar compares being forced to breathe secondhand smoke to other intrusive acts. "What if I forced you to drink whiskey or drugs or anything like that? Would you be happy with that? No." While Ms. Boyd believes bars and casino should be exempt from a smoking ban, she understands why they're coming under fire. "Not everybody is a smoker and not everybody wants to be around it."

When it comes to tobacco use, the American Lung Association has identified three major goals. First, to reduce the current smoking rate in America of 18% to 10% in ten years. Secondly, to protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years. And last but not least, to eliminate death and disease brought on by tobacco use. Mr. Delonti says state lawmakers can help achieve those last two goals by closing loopholes in the 2008 Clean Indoor Air Act "In order to protect public health, this is what we're looking for," he said.

One bill in the the state house and the other in the senate look to eliminate exemptions in the Clean Indoor Air Act. Those exemptions currently apply to places like casino floors, private clubs and bars where food makes up 20 percent or less of gross sales. Both bills are currently in committee in Harrisburg but sources say the measures could emerge from committee in late spring for further consideration.

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