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Rollback of county smoking ban stalls

Thursday, February 08, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

A proposal to delay Cook County's smoking ban until July 2008 won committee approval Wednesday -- but it may be an empty victory.
The rollback measure passed out of Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman's public health subcommittee on a 3-to-1 vote, but county board rules likely will leave the bill stuck in another committee until after the ban takes effect March 15.
"I'm not going to sit on it, I'm going to call it, but I probably won't call it until after March 15," said health committee chairman Jerry Butler (D-Chicago).
Butler's committee must pass on the bill before it makes it to the full board. He was the lone opposing vote in Gorman's subcommittee meeting.
"We've got no time, with the budget," Butler said. "I'd have to have a meeting almost instantly after the budget was passed, and this isn't that big a deal."
So suburban towns will be on their own to decide whether to go along with the existing county smoking ordinance -- which bans smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places -- or craft smoking rules of their own.
Any rules approved by a village board trump the county ordinance.
The measure that passed out of Gorman's committee Wednesday would make the county law more closely mirror Chicago's smoking ban. The ban still would go into effect March 15 for restaurants, but would be delayed until July 2008 for bars, taverns and the bar areas of restaurants, just like Chicago.
Anti-smoking forces squared off with business owners at the committee meeting, though turnout was low compared with the high-charged fights both sides waged in Chicago and the county when the issue was first decided a year ago.
"Don't retreat, don't give people ammunition to say that it's not that important," American Cancer Society regional vice president David Baldwin pleaded with board members. "Stay strong and stay courageous."
Tom Booth, co-owner of Sam Maguire's pub in Orland Park, said bars in that village have lost half of their business since the village adopted a smoking ban, even though the pub is packed on weekends.
"Sunday through Thursday is when we're competing for customers, and they're going to non-smoking locations if there are other options," Booth said.
The patchwork of laws from community to community has left some village boards struggling over what to do. Orland Park, Tinley Park and Oak Forest all recently voted to delay enforcement of their bans after an outcry from business owners.
Although Gorman (R-Orland Park) arranged for the hearing Wednesday, voted against the original ban and called for a delay when the ban originally was debated last year, she abstained from voting on the rollback proposal.
"I thought it was inappropriate for me, as the chair of the public health committee, to vote for it," Gorman said. "I brought it up to open up the dialogue because it's such a messy issue."

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