2009-01-29 / Features

Warning Letters Go Out To Enforce Pa. Smoking Ban

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania's Department of Health is sending warnings to establishments that may have violated the new statewide ban on smoking in most public places, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Since the law went into effect on Sept. 11, the department has sent more than 300 letters to establishments that include a state office, Penn State University's Beaver Stadium, a lawyer's office, a marketing firm, fire halls, a hair salon and restaurants.

"We call it a warning letter, but it's more informational,'' said Health Department spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman, adding that establishments received letters if complaints were made to the department. "It's a way to let business owners know that we're getting complaints, so they may need to address it.''

Repeated complaints may prompt an investigation, Kriedeman said, and could lead to fines of as much as $1,000.

The Patriot-News of Harrisburg obtained a list of the establishments that received the warnings through a request filed under the enhanced Right-to- Know Law that took effect Jan. 1. In December, the Health Department had refused to release the information.

One letter went to the state Department of General Services, which oversees state buildings. It concerned alleged smoking by a worker in the Department of Public Welfare office on the former grounds of Harrisburg State Hospital.

"We don't know specifics of the complaint,'' said Ed Myslewicz, a spokesman for General Services. "But all of our buildings there are posted as nonsmoking. Employees are aware that there is no smoking in the building.''

Jim DeGaetano, manager of the Carlisle Livestock Market, which received a warning, acknowledged that patrons smoke.

"We have no-smoking signs up, but there's people who just light up,'' he said.

The law forbids smoking in most workplaces and public spaces, but provides exceptions for private clubs, cigar bars, designated hotel rooms, portions of slot-machine casinos and bars where food sales make up 20 percent or less of annual sales.

The Health Department is investigating complaints that some bingo halls are allowing smoking, trying to qualify for the private club exemption.

"The intent of this law is to protect employees from the dangers of second-hand smoke, so these creative membership agreements are not consistent with that intent at all,'' Kriedeman said.

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