Illinois Smoking Ban Goes into Effect January 1

Published November 1, 2007

Smoking is no longer allowed in Illinois–at least, not in public.

On July 23, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) signed a statewide public smoking ban. As of January 1, smoking will be illegal in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, workplaces, and all public buildings. Smoking will also be banned within 15 feet of building entrances, exits, and windows.

Illinois is the 19th state to pass such a law. American Medical Association President Ron Davis, M.D. called it “the strongest clean indoor air law in the country.” Sherrill Keefe, tobacco projects manager at the American Lung Association of Greater Chicago, agreed.

“A lot of other states threw in a lot of exceptions,” Keefe explained. “We were very stringent in how we decided to allocate exceptions. An example of that is the exception that is granted to nursing homes.

“Although it is a public place, it is also people’s private homes,” Keefe said. “Other states granted the same exception to gaming facilities and restaurants. Illinois didn’t.”

First Amendment Violation

Others say the law violates the First Amendment’s protection of Americans’ right of assembly.

“This is an issue of violating our Bill of Rights,” said Garnet Dawn Scheuer, president of Illinois Smokers’ Rights. “We are dealing with the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Under this law, smokers can’t peaceably assemble unless it’s outside.” Casinos, bowling alleys, private clubs, and bars are traditionally havens where smokers have gathered.

Many restaurant and bar owners are concerned about the ban’s effect on their businesses. The Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, which represents retail businesses that sell alcohol, released a statement saying, “All-out smoking bans have a severe negative economic impact on hospitality venues that serve beverage alcohol for consumption on-premise.”

“Of particular concern are independent, small, family-owned businesses,” Scheuer noted. “These businesses will fold first. If hospitality industry businesses lose revenue, cities will also lose revenue. On average in Illinois, hospitality businesses generate one of every eight sales tax dollars. Can cities, towns, and villages really afford to lose this revenue?”

Non-Smokers’ Concerns

Anti-smoking crusaders say those arguments are baseless.

“We did a lot of research in this area,” said Keefe. “There were a lot of studies done that saw business improve for a lot of restaurants when smoking bans took effect. Sometimes it’s not the food that’s bringing people in, it’s the atmosphere.

“Twenty-two percent of people in Illinois are smokers,” Keefe continued. “That leaves well over 70 percent of people who are non-smokers. Some of those people don’t come out because of health problems that are aggravated by smoke–now they can.”

Junk Science Accusation

According to the American Medical Association, secondhand smoke kills approximately 3,000 Illinoisans annually.

Scheuer disagrees with that conclusion.

“I don’t believe secondhand smoke health claims are valid,” Scheuer said. “It’s feel-good legislation and based on junk science. There are too many studies out there questioning the belief that secondhand smoke is dangerous.

“I do not believe that secondhand smoke or smoking by itself causes cancer,” Scheuer continued. “It hasn’t been proven, and the idea that you tell a lie enough times until it becomes the truth is the case in this instance.”

Hefty Fines

Individuals who violate the ban will be fined $100 to $250 per instance. Businesses could be fined at least $250 for the first violation of allowing smoking on their premises. A minimum fine of $2,500 would be doled out to businesses that violated the law three times within one year.

Scheuer vowed to fight the law by arguing for personal rights.

“I’m not saying smoking is the best choice to make,” Scheuer said. “But if you look at a lot of other lifestyle choices out there, it is by far not the most harmful.”

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.