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May 2, 2007

B-Sides: Smoking ban legislation in Illinois awaits Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s signature

Marshall, Ill. — Along with cigarette smoke, change was in the air inside the Corner Tavern on Wednesday afternoon.

Just as Tom Keefer sat down to eat a stacked cheeseburger and fries, bartender Tina McSchooler gave him some startling news.

“Going smoke-free, January 1,” she told him.

Keefer lit up a cigarette and shook his head.

McSchooler was referring to a decision by the Illinois Legislature to ban smoking in virtually all public indoor places, starting Jan. 1, 2008. The Illinois House overwhelmingly approved the ban 73-42 on Tuesday. A month earlier, the Senate OK’d it by a 34-23 vote. All that’s needed now is a signature from Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who says he “enthusiastically” supports the ban.

That means there will be no smoking in bars, restaurants, private clubs and most businesses.

As with any other cultural change in America, some people like it and some don’t.

The benefits seem so compellingly clear. An estimated 2,900 Illinois residents die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to legislative supporters of the ban and health organizations such as the American Lung Association. People looking to grab a drink at a tavern won’t leave smelling charred. Employees and customers can work, dine and drink without breathing unwanted smoke — a right that trumps the rights of people to light up, say the ban’s supporters. Folks will be healthier, and maybe the economy’s health-care burdens will lighten.

Yet, change will come hard for many.

Keefer, a 38-year-old Marshall resident, can accept the ban on smoking in restaurants. But a smoke-free Corner Tavern is another matter.

“Restaurants, I don’t mind,” he said. “I’ll respect nonsmokers’ opinions there. But in a bar atmosphere, nobody’s making you enter the doors, so you’re subjecting yourself to it.”

Unlike 44 Illinois communities that already have local no-smoking ordinances, this concept will be new to Marshall. One reason for the statewide ban is to “level the playing field” for restaurants, bars and businesses in towns with smoking controls. Patrons, they contend, would drive to eat or drink in nearby towns without ordinances.

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