Two strip clubs, a bar, and a fraternal organization are seeking indoor smoking permits - a request health and tourism officials have implored City Council to deny.
Smoking at bars and restaurants has not been allowed in Philadelphia since 2007, when the city passed the Clean Indoor Air Worker Protection Law.
At that time, several bars applied for and received exemptions during a 90-day waiver period. On Wednesday, Council members held a hearing on whether to grant waivers to four establishments that either missed the deadline or did not qualify at the time due to tax issues.
The Pyramid Club, part of Pyramid Temple No. 1, 1428 W. Girard Ave., wants to add a cigar lounge on the third floor.
The other establishments seeking waivers are Club Risque on Tacony Street, Grumpy's bar in South Philadelphia, and Christine Gentlemen's Club on the 600 block of West Passyunk Avenue.
The city has given 66 waivers to drinking establishments - out of thousands of bars - and 20 to clubs, said Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning for the Health Department.
"The waiver period was never meant to be reopened," Mallya said. "That wasn't the intent of the law."
Health officials argued that the ban protects workers, and said exemptions weaken the city's stance and could affect the number of health and science conventions that come to the city.
"Twenty-seven health organizations, including the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the CDC, host conferences in cities with comprehensive smoke-free laws that limit exemptions," Health Commissioner James Buehler said.
Michelle Bolles, senior vice president of health strategies for the heart association, testified that the organization, which selected Philadelphia for its 2019 convention, almost balked after seeing Philadelphia's exemptions.
"We will not hold meetings or events in cities without strong smoke-free indoor air laws," she said.
The convention is the largest medical meeting and one of the biggest bookings in city history, projected to bring in 25,000 attendees and $67 million, said Bonnie Grant of the Greater Philadelphia Life Sciences Congress.
Members of the Pyramid Club argued that there are no employees at risk in their situation, since members would tend bar. They said a ventilation system would keep cigar smoke from traveling to the bottom two floors.
Joseph DeSimone, 48, owner of Grumpy's, said he was not notified about the hearing. He said he would have wanted to tell Council that an outstanding water bill caused him to miss the application period in 2007. He's been trying to get a waiver since.
"They're concerned about workers and second-hand smoke, which is fine, but how can you be concerned about workers' health in one place and then give a pass to the next?" DeSimone asked.
He said he cannot stay competitive with nearby bars that permit smoking, like Ray's Happy Birthday Bar and Bonnie's Capistrano Bar.
"The whole thing is unfair," DeSimone said. "If every bar had the same rule, yes or no, I could deal with that."