Champaign may remove smoking ban

By Patrick Wade

Smokers might be allowed to light up again in Champaign bars and restaurants – for another seven months, at least.

Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart said that he is “looking at the possibilities” of a total repeal of the smoking ban and is likely to introduce a bill to the City Council May 15.

The council bill comes on the heels of a statewide ban, which the Illinois House of Representatives approved 72-43 on Tuesday. Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in early April he would likely support the bill if it passed the House.

If approved, the council bill would go into effect immediately, allowing people to smoke inside public buildings for seven months before the proposed statewide ban would go into effect in January 2008.

“Seven months is a great deal of time because (bars and restaurants) have been running 30 percent below what they had been (before the ban),” Schweighart said.

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He added that if the repeal is approved in Champaign, it would give businesses that are being “run out of town” seven months to level the playing field.

The City Council approved the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance 5-4 in May 2006. At that time, At-Large Council member Giraldo Rosales voted in favor of the ordinance.

With At-Large Council member Karen Foster replacing Rosales as a result of the April 17 elections, the majority may have shifted in favor of the repeal.

“I’m still thinking that I will support the mayor,” Foster said, adding that she is standing behind “business owners’ rights to choose their own policies,” and that it is important to give them the choice for at least another seven months.

“What happens in January, happens in January,” Foster said.

Schweighart said he is unsure if the total repeal will be approved.

“Right now there are some (Council members) who are leaning towards a partial (ban), just bars and clubs only,” Schweighart said.

At-Large Council member Tom Bruno originally voted for the ban in May 2006 and thinks repealing it now would have negative effects.

“It’s not prudent to public policy to run a zig-zag course like this,” Bruno said.

Bruno added that this is a health issue, not a business issue.

“The real question is, do we care enough about the health and safety of restaurant and bar workers between now and January?” Bruno said.