PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia has a problem with smoking. It has the highest adult smoking rate of the nation's 10 largest cities at over 22 percent.
It's why Philly's no-smoking law is so important, and why FOX 29 Investigates recently took in an Eagles game, Jeff Cole reports.
It was a big Sunday night game, and excited fans were streaming-in. The Arizona Cardinals were in town, and an Eagles win could have helped the team in what turned out to be its failed push for the playoffs.
FOX 29 Investigates was there not to watch the teams battle, but to learn if the city's nearly decade-old no-smoking law was being followed at the home of the Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, known as "The Linc."
Deborah Brown is the president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.
"Lincoln Financial Field has, what, approximately 70,000 seats? And I believe a majority of the time those seats are pretty full, so there's a lot of people who are potentially at risk," Brown said.
According to the city, the law was designed to make just about every public space in the city was smoke-free.
The goal was to protect patrons and workers of bars, restaurants, stores, offices and even football stadiums from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
The managers of the facility must enforce the law. The city can fine violators.
"We know people who are exposed to second-hand smoke can develop lung cancer, they can develop coronary heart disease, they can suffer a stroke," Brown said.
But from what we saw at the Linc, especially on its upper floors, the law wasn't working.
On the 200 level, in a section of the concourse clearly marked "no smoking," fans were lighting up and blowing cigarette smoke nearly every where we looked.
Paul Ruppel is a producer with FOX 29 Investigates. He and another member of the team roamed the 200 level with their cell phones rolling, watching fans puff away.
"It's certainly going on," Ruppel said. "There's people all along the railing. ... We saw some people in line with the vendors, you know, smoking or having a cigarette in their mouths."
We came to the Link because a source – who did not want to be identified, fearing loss of a job as a vendor – contacted us complaining of repeated exposure to second-hand smoke at the Linc.
The source said not enough was being done to protect workers.
The source's concerns were backed up by what we saw, especially at halftime, when fans swarmed the concourse. Smokers were clearly seen lighting up within a few feet of vendors slinging food and drink.
And while some of the smokers at least moved to the railing and exhaled away from the crowd, others lit up amid the crush of fans and right near those vendors who couldn't move away.
"There were a lot of people standing their smoking, sometimes groups of three or four folks," Ruppel said. "When they were blowing out it was breezy, you'd see the smoke kind of waft toward the vendors, sometimes past sometimes, sometimes into their areas."
Online and in a public announcement we heard as people were crowding into the Linc, fans were told smoking is not allowed except in 3 designated areas.
One of them is Headhouse Plaza, where we saw fans following the law.
But on the upper levels, where smoking is banned, it was being openly violated, and our FOX 29 Investigates staff never saw security tell anyone to put 'em out.
"It's unfortunate that we're seeing those individuals be exposed to second-hand smoke," said the national lung association's Brown, when we showed our cell phone images.
She added, "It certainly seems there needs to be some additional education of employees – in particular security employees – that they know that there is a law, they know what the law is, and that they are comfortable going up to individuals, telling them they cannot smoke in the stadium."
The Linc is one of the remaining 16 stadiums which allows smoking inside.
The Eagles declined to speak on camera. In a statement, the team wrote: "Smoking is prohibited in the stadium except for designated areas and our guest services team communicates with the Philadelphia Police to enforce the policy."
The statement added that if fans notice smoking in a non-designated area: "…We encourage them to inform our guest services team or one of the police officers on site. The health and safety of our fans and employees is of utmost importance to us."
Again, we never saw anyone told to put out their cigarette.
But we did see lots of smokers and cigarette butts littering the floor in those sections where smoking is absolutely not allowed.
Brown says the Eagles could easily make the entire problem just disappear.
"You think the Philadelphia Eagles would be smart to say, 'You may not smoke at the Linc?'" Cole asked.
"I do think that would be very smart because I think it would make the policy much more enforceable because the people would know they cannot smoke anywhere. And, if someone was smoking, they would know that they're in violation of that policy," Brown said.
Our reporting has already prompted action. The Philadelphia Department of Health says it plans to meet with the Eagles this week after FOX 29 Investigates asked why an October complaint of smoking at the Linc – forwarded to the city from the Pennsylvania Department of Health – was never investigated.
The city says a breakdown in communication between city and state caused the delay, Cole reported.