December 11th, 2005
by Max Lamberg and Kate Shahan
A Chicago City Council meeting approved a smoking ban for all freestanding structures in the city in late October. Many Chicago aldermen sought the Health Committee’s approval of the proposal for three years prior to the decision, but they met with great difficulty because an already restrictive, statewide Clean Indoor Air Act passed in 1989. This law allowed indoor smoking only in designated areas.
If the new ordinance is approved, it would make it illegal to smoke in practically every public building in the city. It would also prohibit cigarettes in all outdoor stadiums and prohibit smoking within 25 feet of any building where smoking is banned.
Fortunately for smokers, the Health Committee Chairman, Alderman Ed Smith (Ward 29), is waiting to hear counterproposals and compromises before taking further action.
After the Illinois house voted to allow individual towns and cities to regulate their public smoking policies in April, a new wave of enthusiasm hit Chicago lobbyists. For example, Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke, who is a vital part of the anti-smoking crusade, recently (and unsuccessfully) proposed to raise the smoking age from 18 to 19.
Since restaurants are the number one employer of young people in America, many in support of the ban argue that they are not trying to eliminate smoking itself, but are trying to protect employees and patrons of restaurants who inhale second hand smoke. It is also a concern of ban-supporters that three-quarters of Chicago’s smokers begin smoking before the age of 19.
The research group ImpacTeen argued that it would be more effective for smoking restrictions to be enforced in the home instead of in public areas, as teenagers spend little or no time in many of the places where smoking is banned.
Activists in favor of an ordinance believe that workers who do not smoke should not have to worry about cardiovascular disease and lung cancer from second-hand smoke. Recently, mortality rates for adults with lung cancer have decreased, not because of advances in treatment, but because fewer adults are smoking now. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR: November 11, 2005), adult smoking in the U.S. decreased by 7.1 percent from 2002 to 2004.
A recent study in Helena, Montana, a town that is now smoke-free, reported that there has been a 40 percent decrease in hospital admissions since the ordinance went into effect. In addition, adult smoking in New York has declined since 2002 when the city implemented a $1.50 per pack cigarette tax and then a smoke-free workplace law in 2003.
In 1998, California was the first state to simultaneously impose cigarette taxes, bans, and anti-smoking programs for kids and adults. Since then, over 2,000 alcohol-serving bars and restaurants have gone out of business. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in cities with smoking bans often lose business or close after the enforcement of such a ban.
Skokie, the first town in Illinois to ban smoking in restaurants, also witnessed losses. Jack’s Restaurant could no longer run as a 24-hour diner. Elizabeth Weiss, a First Year student at SAIC, even as a smoker holds a different opinion that many might share: “I don’t think the ban would really affect me, I can go a meal without having a cigarette, and I don’t go to bars.”
Other than hurting local business, it has been suggested that a similar Chicago ban would cause an increase in public disturbances. It would be disruptive to the public because patrons would smoke outside and create more noise. In neighborhoods where bars and restaurants are next to apartment buildings and houses, this would disturb the neighborhood at large.
Even Mayor Daley has not publicly sided for or against the smoking ban, though he has expressed an eagerness to find “some form of compromise.” Numerous bars in the city have already installed air filtration systems to remove cigarette toxins from the air, but it is unknown whether or not even the most sophisticated ventilators actually improve the health of restaurant employees. If evidence is found that ventilators improve air quality in the workplace, the city could begin to issue tobacco licenses costing as much as $10,000 that would pay for the city’s supervision of these filtration systems, similar to the supervision of health codes enforced in restaurant kitchens.
A second possible solution would be for restaurant owners to provide temporary health insurance, or some other form of compensation when an employee is stricken with a smoking-related illness.
Currently, over 2,000 of Chicago’s 6,700 restaurants are smoke-free, with many restaurant owners prohibiting smoking on their own accord. However, most people in favor of the ban are not satisfied by voluntary efforts.
Enforcement of a smoking ban would be expensive ($1.5 million), and there has been no publicized theory from supporters of the ban on how to cover this cost.
Public opinion on the ban is highly debated, as there have been no consistent results from polls. This past spring, the American Cancer Society, in conjunction with the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association, released a poll of 611 registered Chicago voters. Their findings were that 63 percent of the city support a ban on smoking in public buildings, while only 34 percent of the city oppose it. However in 2003, the Chicago Tribune conducted a poll of 700 registered Chicago voters and found that only 42 percent favored a smoking ban while 49 percent opposed it. According to www.laraza.com, the possible prohibition currently has the Hispanic community’s support. They found that 62 percent of registered Hispanic voters support a smoke-free ordinance, as well as 87 percent of those polled admitted they would go out to eat just as much, if not more, if Chicago became smoke free.
Eva Blehm, a First Year student at SAIC from California, explains, “I always just smoked in my car, and outside before and after eating…I’m kind of used to the ban, but I like the way things are here.”
Editor’s note: After this issue went to press, Chicago’s City Council met for a November vote for a final decision to the proposed smoking ban.