By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council today gave its final approval to exemptions for four more drinking establishments from the city’s eight-year-old smoking ban.

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But this could be the last time any waivers are granted.

Before the vote on the smoking ban exemptions, Dr. Stephen Gambescia, a public health professor at Drexel University, urged Council to reject these four waivers.

“Philadelphia workers shouldn’t be forced to expose themselves to the toxic and harmful environment in order to have a job and collect a paycheck,” he said.

But the lawmakers, by a 15-1 vote, approved the waivers for one private club, two strip clubs, and a neighborhood tavern.

But City Council is now poised to get out of the waiver business.  Lawmakers next month will consider a bill that revises the smoking ban to rule out any future waivers.

That measure, sponsored by councilwoman Marian Tasco, has drawn the support of Council president Darrell Clarke.

“We don’t anticipate — assuming we get the support of the (full) Council and the mayor — that there will be any additional locations that will get waivers to allow smoking indoors,” Clarke said today.

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Still, Clarke (far right in photo, back to camera) says he understands the need for exemptions to the smoking ban at certain neighborhood bars.

“People who want to smoke go out on the sidewalk and smoke, and they continue their conversation and in some cases their drinking of alcohol on the sidewalk,” he noted.  “So, it has been some challenges for surrounding neighbors.  We have to figure that out from an operational perspective.  But I will support her legislation.”

Tasco’s bill to end waivers once and for all will be debated on March 17th — St. Patrick’s Day.

The private club seeking an exemption is a group of Prince Hall Shriners affiliated with Pyramid Temple, in North Philadelphia.  The two gentlemen’s clubs were Club Risqué, in the lower northeast, and Vanity Grand, in South Philadelphia.

The fourth exemption was sought by Grumpy’s, on 9th Street in South Philadelphia.

It was not immediately clear if Mayor Nutter will sign off on the exemptions, though they were approved by a veto-proof majority.  At the committee hearing on these requests, Nutter’s health commissioner testified in opposition.


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