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Illinois lawmakers ponder loosening smoking ban

Publication Date: 2012-01-20

Illinois lawmakers are once again trying to snuff out portions of the state's new public smoking ban.

State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago, is pushing legislation that would allow casinos and bars to apply for smoking licenses that would exempt them from the current ban, which has prohibited smoking in all indoor public places since 2008

"It's about letting the businesses decide," DeLuca said.

Under Deluca's proposed legislation, bars, casinos, adult clubs and facilities hosting conventions exhibiting tobacco products and accessories would have the opportunity to apply for a smoking license at a local liquor control commission.

"This legislation is not a lift of the smoking ban. It shifts the authority to local governments," DeLuca said. "If a municipality does not want to participate they wouldn't have to apply. If they want to participate they would have to create an ordinance."

Kathy Drea, vice president of the American Lung Association, called the "smoking license" idea "a license to kill." She said she fears the legislation will weaken the strongest anti-smoking law in the country. The current law, she said, "is a level playing field. When you start making exemptions, it's not fair."

"You can't put a price on making someone sick. These laws are introduced because people want to make money off the licenses, and no amount of money is worth it," Drea said.

The legislation would require all establishments eligible for a smoking license to have an air filtration system.

DeLuca said his legislation is especially important to areas like the Metro East, bordering a state without a smoking ban. He says some tavern owners on the Illinois side are concerned that people will simply go across the border to the state that still allows smoking in bars, affecting local business revenue.

"This legislation doesn't encourage people to smoke," DeLuca said. "It just gives businesses the freedom to do what's best for them."

Under the legislation, a local liquor commission must be approved by an ordinance to legally issue smoking licenses to local businesses.

Drea worries that giving local liquor control commissions the ability to authorize smoking licenses could present problems down the road.

"In smaller municipalities, the local liquor control commission is often only made up of one person, and we don't find that to be a good idea," Drea said.

DeLuca introduced an almost identical piece of legislation last year, which passed committee but was never called onto the floor for debate.

The Legislature returns to Springfield for the 2012 legislative session Jan. 31.

- The bill is HB4012.