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City Council Debates Granting Smoking Ban Waivers To 4 Bars

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia's ban on smoking in public places is now seven years old and City Council finds itself in a quandary over whether to grant exemptions to four bars that want patrons to be able to light up.

City Council's Public Health committee this past week debated whether to grant smoking ban waivers to one private club, two gentlemen's clubs and one neighborhood taproom.

Testifying in opposition was the mayor's Health Commissioner, Dr. James Buehler, who said waivers were only meant to be given out when the law first passed.

"The exemption provisions that were part of the original law in 2007 were meant to be a one-time waiver application period for relatively small bars and private clubs in existence at the time of the law's passage seven years ago. The waiver period was never meant to be re-opened."

Buehler said new waivers would result in a "chipping away" of the city's smoking ban, whose primary sponsor in 2007 was then City Councilman and now Mayor Michael Nutter. Also speaking in opposition was Bonnie Grant of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, who said big conventions increasingly are wary of meeting in cities where smoking is prevalent.

"They are increasingly looking for a smoke-free meeting experience, not just a smoke-free venue, but a smoke-free city, with as few exemptions as possible."

bonnie grant
Photo of Bonnie Grant of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, testifying before City Council's Public Health Committee (credit: City of Philadelphia TV)

So the committee in the end tabled the waiver applications, and the lawmakers put off a decision on the four bars until the new year. This didn't sit well with former City Councilman Frank DiCicco, who is now a consultant for one of the gentlemen's clubs, Club Risque. He said its unfair because four other gentlemen's clubs in Philadelphia were given waivers in 2007.

"So there is a competitive disadvantage for those (clubs) who are not permitted to allow smoking. They would not be asking for an exemption, if they didn't feel it was affecting the bottom line."

The private club seeking an exemption is a group of Prince Hall Shriners affiliated with Pyramid Temple in North Philadelphia. Member Randy Robinson is hopeful that their status would boost the group's chances of obtaining a smoking ban waiver.

"Ours is a private club that has been in existence for over 100 years. And we just want the rights and benefits of similar clubs, such as the Union League."

Robinson said the club did not request a waiver in 2007 because its leaders at the time mistakenly thought all private clubs were automatically exempt.

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