Smoking ban repeal still controversial



By Patrick Wade

Smoking doesn’t bother Samantha Valsamis, sophomore in LAS.

“I don’t smoke myself, but some people can’t handle being around it,” she said.

After the city council’s partial repeal of the smoking ban in May, Champaign bar-goers like Valsamis are going to have to handle the smoke for at least another four months.

“It doesn’t bother me either way,” Valsamis said. “But I do understand that there should be some sort of law about it.”

The smoking ban that went into effect in Champaign last January no longer affects Class-A liquor license holders after the city council took a second vote on the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance in May.

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The ordinance still prohibits smoking in public restaurants.

“Many of the councilmen felt that the restaurants, they liked the fact it was banned, and that they could live with it, and it wouldn’t affect their business,” said Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart, who voted in favor of the repeal.

Now, as University students flood campus bars, the decision is split as to whether or not the city’s repeal is a positive action.

Abe Salinas, sophomore in AHS, said that while smoke-filled bars are uncomfortable, he does not mind if people want to smoke.

“I’m an adult,” Salinas said. “I know where I’m going ahead of time, I know what is and isn’t going to be there.”

But others, like Engineering seniors Zach Zilbershatz and Patty Kaupie, said they cannot wait for the statewide ban to take effect.

“I’m not a smoker so I like to have a nice, clean bar,” Zilbershatz said.

The local partial repeal came before Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the highly anticipated Illinois Smoke Free Act in July. The law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2008, and supersede all local laws, prohibits smoking in all public bars and restaurants in Illinois.

Schweighart said the aim of the city council’s 5-4 decision in favor of partially repealing the ban was to “level the playing field” for bars losing business to outside communities without smoking bans until the statewide law goes into effect.

“It will have an effect on certain businesses in Champaign, not the entire economy,” Schweighart said.

At-Large Council member Thomas Bruno said the repeal was a negative step for Champaign, as it has many health implications.

“It has an impact on one level – it makes us look like idiots,” Bruno said. “It has an impact on another level – it gives us an opportunity for a whole class of incoming University of Illinois freshmen to burden themselves with a lifelong cigarette habit.”

Bruno noted that many smoking habits are acquired in college.

“We’re going to have a certain number, maybe just a few hundred, who will become lifelong committed cigarette smokers, because that went with their bar scene their freshman or sophomore year of college,” Bruno said. “We could have ended that one school year sooner, but we didn’t. That’s just sad in my mind.”

Eric Meyer, who owns several Champaign bars including Kam’s, 618 Daniel St., said that for more than 25 years, he has had one employee quit due to smoke-related problems. He said the smoke bothered the employee’s severe asthma.

“I’m not going to discount the fact that it’s a health hazard,” Meyer said. “But it’s one that people choose to do when they go out to an establishment, and it’s a place that people choose to work at.”

Meyer added that he doesn’t expect to see a dip at Kam’s because it has an outdoor patio where smoking is permitted, but he does expect patrons of his other bars without the patios will leave earlier.

“I don’t think government has any business deciding whether (a smoking ban) needs to be done or not within a business,” Meyer said. “I think it’s the business owner’s choice to decide.”

Both Bruno and Schweighart said the city council will not bring the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance up for another vote before the statewide ban goes into effect.

Until then, smokers will be allowed to light up in Champaign bars.

“I think they’re just delaying it,” Valsamis said. “They know it’s going to happen anyway. Once the state does it, it won’t be Champaign’s deal anymore.”