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County should not follow towns' lead on smoking ban

Sunday, January 28, 2007
Daily Southtown

The issue: After three southwest suburbs backed away from their smoking bans in bars and restaurants, the area's county commissioner wants the county to follow suit.

We say: County board members should keep health concerns a higher priority than the economic arguments and hold firm on the March 14 effective date.

Elected officials in three southwest suburbs already have turned tail and run on the issue of smoking in bars and restaurants. Now Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman (R-Orland Park) wants the county to do the same thing.
Last week, Oak Forest, Orland Park and Tinley Park officials lifted their municipal bans on smoking in bars and restaurants after business owners complained their businesses were in jeopardy after two and a half weeks of the prohibition. Oak Forest and Orland Hills decided to lift the ban until March 14, when Cook County's ban takes effect. Tinley Park lifted its ban until Feb. 21. Oak Forest officials said they might go even further and rescind the ban entirely. Orland Park and Tinley Park's mayors said the ban would not be weakened any further.
Business owners claimed that because of the smoking law, their customers had taken their business elsewhere, some to Will County, which has no smoking ban, or to Chicago, where bars and taverns are exempt from the city's ban until July 2008, or to Orland Hills, which did not change its smoking regulations.
Proponents of the ban said two and a half weeks was not enough time to evaluate the effects of the ban, noting that business drops off in January every year. Elected officials apparently thought two and a half weeks was plenty of time to decide that more voters were angry with the ban than would be angry if they lifted it.
Now Gorman apparently is hoping she can persuade her fellow county commissioners that it would be good business and good politics to back away from the county law for 18 months. We hope they don't buy either of those arguments, because regardless of whether smokers come back and voters approve, lifting the ban would be bad for the health of the employees and clientele of the bars and taverns. The U.S. Surgeon General concluded last summer that there was definitive evidence that secondhand smoke causes 46,000 deaths a year from heart disease, 3,000 from cancer and 430 from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Responsible organizations such as the Chicago Lung Association say evidence from other jurisdictions where smoking indoors has been outlawed shows that after such laws have been in effect for a while, there is no negative impact on business, and in some cases, business increases because smoking is not allowed.
County health officials say there is some evidence that smoking is more pervasive in the southwest and south suburbs, based on higher incidence of heart and lung diseases.
Perhaps that may explain a greater-than-typical negative reaction to the smoking ban. But it also suggests there is greater-than-typical need here to discourage smokers and protect non-smokers. Our elected officials ought to be as concerned about these health issues as they apparently are about the temporary drop-off in customers at businesses where customers can't smoke.

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