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Here’s Why You’re Allowed to Smoke at the Gaff

The Shandygaff — known for its cheap drinks during happy hour and karaoke on Wednesdays — is one of the most popular bars in downtown State College, with a line filling Calder Way by 11 on most nights. As soon as the 21+ crowd climbs the dingy stairs up to the bar, they’re encompassed by the smell of cheap beer and, most of all, smoke.

Even though I’ve grown to expect the stench, I still found myself wondering each time I’m there why people are allowed to smoke within the bar. The Gaff is the only bar in downtown State College that allows customers to smoke cigarettes and cigars while in the building.

I reached out to State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine for an explanation. He said there is a state law that prohibits smoking in bars and public buildings, but there is a provision related to percent of food sales that allows exemptions to some bars.

The legislation Fountaine referenced was the Clean Indoor Air Act, signed into law on June 13, 2008. The Pennsylvania law prohibits smoking in a public place or a workplace and imposes penalties for those establishments in noncompliance.

The Gaff is granted exemption to the state law because its total annual sales of food sold for on-premises consumption is less than or equal to 20% of the combined gross sales of the establishment. This sets the Gaff apart from other downtown bars, which have full or limited food menus even late at night.

Kevin Kassab of the State College Health Department said in order for a bar to receive exemption, the owner is required to submit to the state Department of Health all necessary documentation that would show that it meets the required documentation for exemption.

So in cases such as the Gaff, where a bar meets exemption standards to the state law, it is up to the owner to determine whether he would like to allow smoking within the establishment. Obviously that means the Gaff’s owner decided he wants to allow guests to smoke. Other bars in town are also eligible for the exemption but choose not to allow smoking anyway.

Repeated calls to the Gaff were not returned for this story.

About the Author

Jessica Tully

Jessica Tully is a first-year law student at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. She graduated in May 2014 with degrees in journalism and political science.

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