Ill. considers loosening smoking ban in bars, restaurants

Illinois lawmakers are considering loosening the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which prohibits smoking in all indoor public places since being passed in 2008.

If the ban is loosened, individual bars, restaurants, and other facilities hosting events with tobacco products will be able to apply for a smoking license that would exempt them from the no smoking ban.

“We think this is a terrible idea,” Katie Lorenz, American Lung Association communications manager, said.

Smoke-free Illinois Act

The Smoke-free Illinois Act

“The Smoke Free Illinois Act promotes public health and protects workers from disease and death caused by secondhand smoke,” Lorenz added.

This new legislation would require all public places applying for a smoking license to have an air filtration system, which is not always effective at eliminating smoke.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, it was estimated that exposure to secondhand smoke kills at least 65,000 people a year in the United States who do not smoke, including 2,900 in Illinois.

“The effects of bystanders can be similar to the effects on smokers themselves, depending on the amount of exposure,” Dr. Jean Swearingen, medical director of Student Health Services, said about the detrimental health effects of secondhand smoke.

“Smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke can trigger asthma attacks, increase the risk of bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, and other respiratory illnesses,” she added.

Since the  smoking ban came into effect in 2008, the American Lung Association has reported a 4.4 percent decline in smoking rates by 2010.

In order for a smoking license to be issued, a local liquor commission must be approved by an ordinance. The idea of a smoking license is to give businesses a chance to choose, not to promote smoking.

According to Lorenz, any exemption made for any reason puts people’s lives at risk.

“Millions of workers across Illinois are able to enjoy a smoke free workplace and avoid deadly secondhand smoke exposure as a result of this law,” Lorenz said.

“Second hand smoke kills and no one should be exposed to it in order to earn a living,” she added.

Swearingen said that over long term exposure, secondhand smoke can even lead to more serious health problems including cancer, heart attack, and stroke.

The legislation returns to Springfield on Jan. 31 for the legislative session.

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