HARRISBURG - For 10 years, Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf has fought for legislation to make Pennsylvania smoke-free.
Yesterday, just two weeks into a new session, his smoking-ban bill vaulted out of committee, carried by a tide of antismoking sentiment.
"Public opinion," Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) said when asked what had cleared the way. "Support for it has increased."
Add the fact that the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association - which had long objected to smoking bans - signed on last year, saying it was mindful rising health concerns for customers and employees.
Greenleaf said support for smoking bans was running between 65 percent and 80 percent in polls. A key factor, he said, was last year's finding by the U.S. surgeon general that even brief exposure secondhand smoke can be harmful.
Greenleaf's bill would make smoking illegal in virtually all enclosed public spaces, including bars, restaurants, malls, sports venues, workplaces, restrooms and casinos. Penalties would start with fines of up to $100 for a first offense.
Public indoor smoking would be allowed only in tobacco stores and in one fourth of the rooms in the state's hotels.
The committee vote came in the same month that smoking bans have taken effect in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Philadelphia's ban makes an exception for private clubs and neighborhood taverns that serve little or no food.
The state ban, as written, would not preempt local laws, Greenleaf said.
Only two of the Public Health and Welfare Committee's 11 members voted against the bill.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) said he favored the ban but objected on procedural grounds to moving the bill through quickly.
"We needed to address issues like fines in committee," he said. "I'm concerned, if we don't, the bill will get lost in legislative limbo."
Sen. Mary Jo White (R., Venango) objected to the element of government intrusion.
"Her biggest concern is the role of government in regulating personal behavior," said Patrick Henderson, White's spokesman.
The bill, known as the Clean Indoor Air Act, has a long way to go before becoming law. It must clear the Senate Appropriations Committee and House committees before going to floor votes in both chambers. Similar bills, opposed by the Pennsylvania Tavern Association, failed to get out of a House committee in the fall.
But support for smoking bans has grown since then. Gov. Rendell said last month that he favored a statewide ban as part of his broad Prescription for Pennsylvania health-care plan.
House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene), a cigar aficionado, was not prepared to weigh in yesterday. His spokesman, Tom Andrews, said DeWeese "is going to let the House committee members vet this issue before taking an official position for the caucus."
If the bill becomes law, Pennsylvania would join New Jersey, New York, and 14 other states with statewide smoking bans. In New Jersey, however, casino floors are exempt.