State senate passes Smoke Free Act banning tobacco use in bars

By Patrick Wade

The Illinois State Senate passed a bill 34-23 Thursday known as the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which would require all restaurants and bars in Illinois to ban smoking inside their facilities.

Champaign and Urbana are already under such regulations – Urbana since August 2006 and Champaign since January 2007 – and Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart says the bill, if signed into law, will not affect the cities’ policies.

It will, however, put all cities in the area under the same regulations.

“It will make a level playing field for everybody,” Schweighart said. “We wouldn’t be sending Champaign-Urbana business to Savoy and Mahomet, which is what we’re doing now.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, secondhand tobacco smoke causes at least 65,000 deaths a year from heart disease and lung cancer – 2,900 of those people are Illinois citizens, according to the bill.

Under the bill, individuals who smoke in an indoor public area may be fined as much as $250. The owner of a public place who violates the act may also be fined $250 for a first offense and as much as $2,500 for repeat offenses.

Sixteen other states and 44 Illinois communities already have similar smoking restrictions, the Associated Press reported.

“This was a historic vote,” said Daniel Lewart, vice president of the C-U Smokefree Alliance. “The Illinois Senate has acted decisively to make all indoor places smoke free, which is a right that the people of Illinois are entitled to.”

Lewart added that Champaign and Urbana helped build momentum for this bill by passing their own smoke free legislation.

Schweighart said he still believes the bill will have a negative economic effect, despite all Illinois cities now being under the same regulations.

“Even if they pass the statewide (ban), you’re still going to see a loss of business,” Schweighart said. “You’re going to see people enacting their rights to go home and have a beer and a cigarette at home.”

Schweighart added that the city will most likely lose sales tax income.

According to an October 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoke free laws do not have a negative economic impact on bars and restaurants. In fact, restaurant and bar revenues increased 8.7 percent in New York City in 2003 following a smoke free ordinance.

“I don’t usually like to smoke indoors, because it traps the smell, but if (non-smokers) are going into this place, they’re willingly exposing themselves to this,” said Randy McConnell, freshman in ACES. He added that he thinks that there should a restricted area where smokers are allowed to carry out their habit.

“Some people just like to smoke indoors, while they’re sitting next to their beer,” McConnell said.

At-large Champaign City Councilmember Thomas Bruno said that Champaign was ahead of the game in enacting a smoke free ordinance, and the community has “overwhelmingly expressed their appreciation for the Clean Air Ordinance.”

“We did the right thing in Champaign in May 2006 when we chose clean, healthy indoor air over profits,” Bruno said. “It was apparent to most of us that the state of Illinois would not be far behind in enacting a statewide Clean Air law, and we just saw the wisdom of doing so a year earlier.”