Banning smoking in bars would help Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is often referred to as a culturally dilapidated city. Could the Clean Indoor Air Act help reverse this trend?

Pittsburgh is often referred to as a culturally dilapidated city, a criticism largely related to its shrinking population in the urban core of the region. Could the Clean Indoor Air Act help reverse this trend?

The act, which went into effect on Sept. 11, bans smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including restaurants and bowling alleys, two of the traditionally smokiest places in Pittsburgh. For health-minded critics who argue that second-hand smoke is dangerous and that smoking should not be allowed in public places, the ban is a welcome and potentially progressive step in the right direction for the state.

But the act is a statewide partial smoking ban. This means that the law exempts bars and taverns where food accounts for less than 20 percent of sales, and where alcohol accounts for more than 80 percent. It also doesn’t apply to 25 percent of gambling floor space at casinos — like the new one that is being developed right here in Pittsburgh — as well as established private clubs, whose officers can vote to allow or disallow smoking.

While we understand the health-based argument that surrounds smoking bans, our issue with this new law is not one from a health, or even a civil rights perspective. Rather we believe that enacting a smoking ban is a positive step toward the Iron City’s future as a powerful urban center, one free of its outdated image of smoke, grit, and smog.

But the ban isn’t enough to get us there yet. Larger, more sustainably progressive urban centers like San Francisco and Portland are just some of many cities where smoking is not, or soon won’t be, allowed, even in bars. Smoking was banned in California in 1998, in New York in 2003, in the District of Columbia and Oregon in 2007 (though it won’t take effect in the latter until January 2009), and in Illinois this past January. These states (and D.C.) are generally recognized as more culturally and politically advanced than Pittsburgh, and this is amplified by having more clean, more inviting spaces.

Pittsburgh has the technology and the gumption to compete on an even playing field with some of these big cities like Chicago and New York. There are, of course, other factors involved. A full smoking ban isn’t the be-all and end-all of this game, but it could be a step in the right direction.