Potential statewide smoking ban already experiencing backlash



By The Associated Press

CAHOKIA, Ill. – Simultaneously working 32 bingo cards with all the fluid calm of a maestro, 64-year-old retiree Shirley O’Neal was in her element Wednesday – her trusty orange bingo dobber in one hand, a smoldering Doral menthol in the other.

No thanks to state lawmakers, she fumes, she figures she’ll be forced to give up one of the vices soon.

A day after the Illinois House gave final approval to a ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public workplaces – a measure likely to be signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and take effect Jan. 1 – O’Neal and other Illinois smokers by Wednesday already were weighing their next moves.

Will they still frequent their favorite eateries, pubs, casinos and bingo hangouts once they go smoke-free, staving off their immediate urge for a cigarette or stogie while doing so? Will they take their business to neighboring states where they can smoke without hassle? Or will they just stay home?

At the Knights of Columbus hall, an easy drive across the Mississippi from St. Louis, O’Neal suspected her twice-a-week bingo fix that costs her about $300 a week will be history if she can’t puff while she plays.

“I’ll probably end up staying home,” the East St. Louis woman said. During these extended bingo stays, “I couldn’t last three or four hours without a cigarette.”

So went the often angry fallout throughout Illinois a day after Springfield lawmakers put the state within a governor’s pen stroke of becoming the 19th state to impose such a ban. Forty-four Illinois communities already have approved restrictions on smoking in public places, according to the American Cancer Society.

Anti-smoking activists described the legislation as an important step in protecting people, especially waiters and bartenders constantly around cigarettes, from secondhand smoke. They estimate secondhand smoke contributes to 2,900 deaths in Illinois each year – about eight a day. Opponents of the measure say it, well, stinks.

“It’s going to have a dramatic effect on casinos,” the Illinois Casino Gaming Association’s Tom Swoik said. He said an estimated two-thirds of visitors to East St. Louis and Rock Island casinos are smokers who “can literally go over the bridge” to gamble in more smoker-friendly Missouri or Iowa. Swoik insists the ban could cause a 20 percent slide in gaming revenue in Illinois, meaning a yearly loss of about $144 million for the state in gaming taxes.

In far eastern Illinois at bars he owns in Marshall and Paris, Bob Dietz believes the ban will leave him with little to do but watch some of his clientele drive east to Indiana.

And Dietz, himself a smoker, figures the ripple effect won’t stop there, possibly putting more drunken drivers on the roads by forcing them to frequent bars out of state to smoke, while sending tax revenue into Indiana rather than Illinois’ coffers.