As first reported by Billy Penn, the iconic Center City dive bar McGlinchey’s will once again allow patrons to smoke indoors now that pandemic restrictions are being eased. The Pennsylvania Department of Health banned smoking indoors at bars and restaurants as a COVID-19 mitigation measure. Now that cases have flatlined in Pennsylvania, many of those restrictions are now being lifted, including the prohibition on smoking indoors at bars or restaurants.
McGlinchey’s is one of the few establishments in Philadelphia where you can have a beer and a smoke since 2008 when the state legislature passed the Clean Indoor Air Act (CIAA), prohibiting bars and restaurants where more than 20% of sales come from food from allowing smoking indoors.
The owners of McGlinchey’s make clear in their interview with Billy Penn that they view offering a place where people can smoke cigarettes while drinking alcohol as essential to their business model.
That is a mistake as a reopening strategy.
» READ MORE: Pennsylvania’s weird liquor laws, explained
Last week, the Philadelphia Tribune reported that 60.4% of city adults are fully vaccinated. Over 70% have gotten at least one shot. The vaccine is working and, as a result, new COVID-19 cases have dropped to some of the lowest levels since the start of the pandemic. There has been a small recent increase due to the delta variant but nothing like what is happening in other parts of the country. This is entirely due to the enthusiasm among Philadelphia residents for getting the vaccine. This strong adherence to such an important public health measure ought to give McGlinchey’s pause. There may not be much excitement among Philly residents for smoking in bars — just like there isn’t much excitement about remaining unvaccinated.
This fervor for public health measures extended to masking. A study conducted by the Philadelphia Department of Health found that the compliance rate in Philadelphia got as high as 96%. I’m sure that number is not surprising to most people who lived in Philly during the pandemic. Masking up basically became a way of life in Philly. Again, Philly shows strong enthusiasm for public health measures.
On Thursday, the city announced new, strong recommendations that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people resume mask-wearing indoors to tamp down the spread of the delta variant. I expect my fellow Philadelphians to embrace this with the same gusto they did in March 2020. And smoking bans are effective public health measures. Cigarette smoking rates have fallen: 68% among adults, from 42.6% in 1965 to 13.7% in 2018.
Beyond Philadelphia’s proven track record of following public health guidelines, any bar that allows smoking may also want to pay attention to the highly competitive labor market. Bartenders and servers (as well as other workers) are using their leverage to demand higher wages and better benefits. Employees may not want to spend their shifts sucking in toxic fumes. It’s probably a good idea to ditch smoking if you want to attract and retain employees in the current economic environment.
Hopefully, McGlinchey’s will reconsider and make their previous smoking ban permanent. After all, they already threw out all their ashtrays, according to owner Sheldon Sokol. The dive landmark could set an example for every other bar in the city that currently allows smoking.
Ben Waxman is president and CEO of A. Waxman & Co., a strategic communications consulting firm. He is also a former member of the editorial board of the Philadelphia Daily News. firstname.lastname@example.org