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County kicking ash

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

A sweeping smoking ban is on track to hit suburban Cook County in eight weeks -- threatening to outlaw the lighting up of cigarettes, pipes and cigars in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and indoor workplaces in dozens of towns.
Forget about a two-year grace period or exemptions for some bars and restaurants, as is being done in Chicago.
This plan would provide no courtesies and take effect just 60 days from when it's approved by the county board.
That vote is expected Wednesday, as a county board committee voted 11-0 on Monday to support the ban and send it to the full 17-member board.
The ban would apply to all unincorporated areas of the county and any city or village -- including home-rule communities -- that haven't passed their own smoking ordinance, county attorneys said.
LIGHTS OUT
Chicago's smoking ordinance took effect in January, but a proposed ban set for a vote by the Cook County Board would be even tougher.
•  No exemptions for any bars, restaurants, retail tobacco stores, clubs or lodges.
•  No two-year grace period for bars. County ban would take effect for all businesses 60 days after passage -- meaning it could be law by mid-May.
•  County ban also applies to gaming establishments, potentially affecting any future casinos.
That means a ban soon could affect more than 100 communities.
"This is totally beyond reason," said Garnet Dawn, Midwest regional director of the Smoker's Club, a national group created to help fight bans like this. "I'm not sure what Cook County's trying to pull, but they're going to have one whopper of a fight on their hands."
Even a smoker backs the ban
The preliminary passing of the ban came without so much as a whimper of opposition Monday, as county Commissioner Mike Quigley ushered it through on the heels of a similar ban passed by the city last year.
Quigley said the county ban, co-sponsored by most of the board, "does follow the city, but we have a better and stronger ban."
Diana Hackbarth, of the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco, said it's "a historic ordinance," while even Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno -- a smoker -- asked to be added as a co-sponsor to the measure.
The bill also has the support of County Board President John Stroger and his Democratic rival, Forrest Claypool, along with Republicans.
Also Wednesday, the board is expected to vote on a separate bill to ban smoking in any county vehicle or building -- including break rooms and judge's chambers.
"The wagons are being circled on the smoking issue," said Moreno, adding he hopes to quit after the March 21 primary. "We have to send a strong message to our society that we can't tolerate the costs of tobacco-related illnesses in the private sector or in our government."
Though Chicago faced much opposition in passing its smoking ban, once it was through, those same critics urged county- and even state-wide bans, to lessen impact of smokers fleeing the city for suburban bars and restaurants.
Recently added $1 tax
Mark Fowler, executive director of the Northwest Municipal Conference, said his group of northwest suburban mayors has been waiting to see what the Legislature might do before deciding whether to craft local anti-smoking ordinances. His group now might have to act sooner, given the county's proposal.
Berwyn Mayor Michael O'Connor said the issue "wasn't on the front burner" in his community, but likely will be soon if the county board finalizes the ban.
The county ordinance would put enforcement responsibility on health inspectors and local cops, causing some commissioners to express concern about how well the restrictions would be policed.
Violators would face a $100 fine, jumping to $500 for a second infraction and $2,500 each time after, with business owners also facing penalties for allowing smokers to puff away while indoors.
Fines collected would go toward educational programs aimed at showing smoking's health hazards.
The County Board just balanced its budgets on the backs of smokers, adding a $1 tax per pack and driving the county's overall cigarette tax to $2 a pack.



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