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Smoking ban goes statewide in January

Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Daily Southtown

The issue: Governor signs state law banning smoking in nearly all public places.
We say: The measure is in the best interests of the residents of Illinois, and a statewide ban eliminates the fears of some businesses that local ordinances would drive their clientele to other communities.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Smoke-Free Illinois Act into law Monday, exacting what one of its sponsors -- state Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) -- called the most restrictive smoking law in the nation.
The law bans smoking in almost all public places, including bars and restaurants. It includes exemptions for private homes and vehicles, some hotel rooms and some private or semi-private nursing home rooms.
Almost two months after passage of the legislation by both chambers of the General Assembly, we were beginning to wonder if the bill had somehow gotten tangled up in the state's budget stalemate. But Monday the governor put his signature on the measure.
Effective Jan. 1, 2008, anyone who smokes in a public place will be subject to fines between $100 and $250, as will the proprietors of such places if they fail to enforce the law. A business found to be in violation of the law a third time faces a fine of $2,500.
As we've said before, we believe the statewide smoking ban will save lives. Employees of restaurants and bars, for example, no longer will have to decide between their jobs and being exposed against their wishes to secondhand smoke.
The new law cites the surgeon general's most recent report on secondhand smoke, which concluded that other people's smoke was a leading cause of lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and bronchitis, and an Environmental Protection Agency finding that there was no effective way to get cigarette smoke out of the air. Ventilators, air scrubbers and separate areas for smokers within an enclosed space all are ineffective at protecting non-smokers.
In our view, the surgeon general's report should have settled once and for all the debate over the health risks associated with secondhand smoke. Of course, the debate in Illinois over the past year has been over whether local laws against smoking in public were unfair to businesses, putting them at competitive disadvantages. We thought that was a legitimate point and an argument in favor of delaying municipal smoking bans and waiting for a statewide law.
Now that the entire state is smoke-free, the so-called "playing field" has been leveled as much as state government is capable of doing so. There probably still will be some smokers who will cross the state borders to find a bar or a restaurant where they can smoke. But smokers represent a small group of all citizens now, and their numbers are shrinking. And those who are willing to travel long distances to sit in a smoke-filled tavern are now relatively few in number.
One question that still will have to be answered is how the ban will be enforced. We doubt the state police can spare officers to run surprise smoke checks on restaurants or other businesses; we know few local police departments have that kind of excess manpower. And based on the objections raised by business owners during the debate on a smoking ban, we're skeptical that many of them will spend a lot of effort on self-enforcement of the law, unless their clientele insist. And that may be how the law ultimately is enforced.
The fact is that the research on smoking and on secondhand smoke is leading more smokers to quit. Only about 20 percent of Americans smoke cigarettes today, and among more educated groups, the percentage is even lower. It will continue to decline, and eventually there will be little economic incentive for a business owner to risk alienating the non-smokers in his market.

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