Smoking ban may blanket suburbs
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
by Jonathan Lipman
A majority of Cook County commissioners express at least some support for a measure that could ban smoking in restaurants and bars in many county suburbs.
Nine commissioners, including County President John Stroger, said they totally support or are leaning toward supporting a proposal by Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) that would affect any suburb that does not have its own ordinance in place.
It will probably be some time before the board votes on a ban. Quigley announced his proposal Tuesday.
"I don't see it being passed in the near future, we're going to have to do a lot of work," said Commissioner Bobbie Steele (D-Chicago), who supports the ban. "We'll research it and we'll probably get resistance from the restaurant community."
At the same time, several commissioners said there likely won't be a need for the years of debate that have set the table for today's vote on a city smoking ban. County commissioners can use the research and testimony already collected by city aldermen.
"The city council's done a lot of good work on this, and I think we should take a look at it," Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago) said. "There might be some good compromises there."
But after weeks of negotiating, city aldermen settled on a compromise Tuesday that will still amount to a blanket ban on public smoking in Chicago. After failing to win an exemption for stand-alone taverns, ban opponents agreed to a deal that would let taverns phase in the ban over two or three years.
Quigley said he'll push for hearings in the next few weeks. Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-Chicago) chairs the health committee and said he supports the ban despite reservations.
Like many giving preliminary support to the countywide ban, Stroger said he would like time to study the proposal and to see if a compromise is possible.
But in a sign of support, Stroger said he has directed the county's public health department to help Quigley, his political opponent, in researching and drafting the ordinance.
"I don't see anything wrong with (a ban) if it's going to be banned in Chicago," Stroger said. "It's really to protect people's health."
Stroger mentioned his son, Hans Stroger, who died from asthma in 1982.
"That comes not only from problems he may have picked up genetically but exposure to elements in the air," Stroger said.
Many commissioners on both sides of the issue said they were worried about whether the county would be overstepping its authority, forcing a ban on local villages and cities.
"The 1970 Illinois constitution made it pretty clear," Commissioner Carl Hansen (R-Mount Prospect) said. "Those kinds of matters are really supposed to be taken up by local municipalities."
But Steele, a frequent advocate for the county hospitals, said the county should take the lead on the issue because it provides health care for the poor.
"The problems that are created by second-hand smoke end up in our own health system," Steele said. "I'm more concerned about people's health than the resources of these restaurants."
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Pat Driscoll, the county board's attorney, said the county has authority to enact legislation dealing with public safety and public health.
Unless a village has its own ordinance governing smoking, Driscoll said, the county's ordinance would be law.
Commissioners' arguments reflected the central debate of public health versus personal freedom.
"Have you seen what a lung looks like after second-hand smoke?" asked Deborah Sims (D-Chicago). "That's serious."
"I think the marketplace has to determine this," said Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago). "A lot of consumers want to avoid smoking, and there are businesses that cater to them."
Both sides likely will face pressure similar to the intense lobbying that has accompanied the debate in Chicago city council. Quigley announced his proposal Tuesday along with Joel Africk, CEO of the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Africk has been a fixture in city council during the recent debate.
Africk said the group relies on grassroots support, denying reports that his group spent $2 million on its city campaign, and will be ready to help Quigley.
"This is in a very early stage right now," Africk said. "But we'll support this."
Illinois Restaurant Association spokesman Andrew Ariens said his group will oppose the county ban as strenuously as it has opposed the city's.