MAIN: Ban took 15 years

SIDE: Bears ban smoking at home games

Related: Look for story on new law about cigs that put themselves out

It took Gov. Rod Blagojevich a matter of moments July 23 to sign a new law that will ban smoking in public places across Illinois. The sweeping measure itself took more than 15 years to get to his desk.
“It’s (been) a long, rocky road,” said former state Rep. John Dunn, a Decatur Democrat who is credited with making the first significant smoke-free strides in the Legislature.
Dunn, who put up with second-hand smoke for years in his legislative chamber, was a sponsor of the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act of 1990 that limited smoking at work places to designated areas. The law set the standard for all cities except Chicago and a handful of communities that already had their own ordinances. But Dunn said he considered it a “very weak” bill that made too many concessions to the tobacco industry.
Health advocates credit evolving social attitudes about smoking and a series of smaller changes over the next decade with clearing the way for stronger statewide restrictions. They say it helped that major cities in other states as well as other state governments and countries began imposing comprehensive smoking bans in indoor public places, such as bars and restaurants.
Against that backdrop, Chicago’s elected leaders in 2002 considered similar prohibitions for the Windy City over the objections of the local hospitality industry, which warned that business would suffer. In 2005, state lawmakers and Blagojevich agreed to give all Illinois cities the ability to have the same debate.
More than 40 local governments, including the Springfield City Council, chose to enact local smoking bans, noted Kathy Drea, director of public policy for the American Lung Association of Illinois. She said lawmakers saw for themselves that “the sky didn’t fall in Springfield,” making them more comfortable with the idea of a stronger Illinois law.
State Sen. John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the resulting legislation for a uniform smoking ban, said new federal information about the harmful effects of second-hand smoke helped bolster the case for a stricter law. The Smoke-Free Illinois Act passed the Senate, then cleared the House in May when Blagojevich signaled he would “enthusiastically” sign the measure.
The new law will ban smoking in virtually all public places beginning Jan. 1, including bowling alleys and casinos. The law trumps a Chicago ordinance that was to take effect next summer, but it does identify a few exemptions, such as tobacco retail outlets and a share of hotel rooms.
 “The theory there is we’re protecting people who are not smokers,” Cullerton said. “As far as people who aren’t smokers, we haven’t said you can’t smoke. We have said it’s going to be more expensive.”
Cullerton has pushed for a 90-cent increase in the 98-cent state tax on cigarettes to raise money for the state budget. He said even if people stop buying cigarettes, state government stands to save Medicaid funds it spends on smoking-related illnesses.
Advocates for smokers are still reeling from the passage of the new law and predict the anti-cigarette crowd won’t stop with public restrictions. They cite the failed legislative attempt this year to ban smoking in private cars where young children are present.
Harry “Bud” Kelley, legislative liaison for the Illinois Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors, predicts a drop-off in cigarette sales and a subsequent loss in state taxes. He said he has changed his own notions over the years about where it is appropriate to allow smoking but disagrees that bars and clubs should be included.
“I have changed, but I haven’t fallen off the cliff and gone bananas,” Kelley said.
Drea said her health advocacy organization is more concerned with seeing the new law implemented and enforced, rather than pursuing additional restrictions. Cullerton said his efforts have been focused on public spaces.
Meanwhile, the state’s gambling industry is pursuing a five-year exemption from the smoking law for casinos to accommodate the large percentage of customers who smoke, spokesman Tom Swoik said. Casinos near the borders of states that go smoke-free would become subject to the Illinois law sooner, he said.
llinois is the 22nd state in the nation to go smoke-free, Drea said.
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or .

Bears snuff out cigs
CHICAGO – Bears fans: Do NOT smoke them if you’ve got them.
Team officials announced last week that smoking will not be allowed -- anywhere – beginning this season at the revamped Soldier Field that hosts the Chicago Bears home games.
The ban begins with a preseason game on Aug. 25, which is earlier than the Jan. 1, 2008, starting date for the new Smoker-Free Illinois Act. The law bans smoking in public places, including partially enclosed sports arenas.
Ushers and security guards will enforce the new policy, the team said in a news release. First-time offenders will be forced to exchange their ticket for a “smoking card”; on a second offense, the spectator will be ejected, the team said.