Blagojevich signs statewide smoking ban

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CHICAGO—Surrounded by cancer survivors, health care professionals and clean air advocates at Northwestern University’s Feinberg Pavillion, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich took steps to protect millions of Illinoisans from the dangers of lung cancer by signing important legislation that will impose a statewide ban on smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants, public buildings and workplaces. Senate Bill 500, the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, was sponsored by state Rep. Karen A. Yarbrough (D-Broadview) and state Sen. Terry Link (D-Lake Bluff).

“In Illinois, we are doing what we can to protect the health of families and working people,” said Blagojevich. “I am proud to sign this legislation that makes it safe for people to visit or work in restaurants and bars without putting their health at risk. I would like to thank Representative Yarbrough and Senator Link on their hard work to keep Illinoisans safe from lung cancer.”

SB500 supersedes most local ordinances that may have been considered weak, such as allowing a phased-in smoking ban or exempting establishments that installed approved air filtration systems.

“More than any administration in Illinois history, Governor Blagojevich is committed to improving the health of this state,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Eric E. Whitaker. “We are the first state in the country to ensure access to health care for all kids. We have made prescription drugs more affordable for thousands of Illinois seniors, and we have expanded screening and treatment options for breast and cervical cancer. Tobacco use is the single largest cause of preventable premature death in the United States, and now Illinois has taken steps to prevent more exposure to secondhand smoke.”

Illinois workers face serious health risks related to secondhand smoke. The U.S. Surgeon General’s June 2006 report concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Research shows that workers exposed to secondhand smoke on a daily basis are 20 to 30 percent more likely to develop cancer than other workers. In fact, one eight-hour shift in a smoky workplace is equivalent to smoking 16 cigarettes. Secondhand smoke is a preventable cause of disease and death, both in adults and children.

“Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in both men and women,” said Rep. Yarbrough. “I would like to thank the governor for his unwavering commitment to public health for this great state of ours.”

“Cigarette smoke in restaurants is not only unpleasant for non-smoking patrons,” said Sen. Link. “That smoke is dangerous – both for diners and employees. This bill will make public places safer for everyone, and I am proud to be associated with this important legislation.”

“A smoke-free Illinois is a healthy Illinois. I am delighted the governor is signing SB 500. I appreciate the help we’ve had from the many advocacy organizations that promote wellness for all,” said state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago).

“Secondhand smoke has a measurable effect on the heart, resulting in decreased oxygen levels. The American Heart Association commends Governor Blagojevich for signing the Smoke-Free Illinois Act. With today's historic signing, he has ensured reductions in heart attacks and strokes,” said R. Andrew Rauh, M.D., president, Chicago Metropolitan Board, American Heart Association, and cardiologist with the Midwest Heart Specialists.

“According to published health statistics, it is estimated that the Smoke-Free Illinois Act will save more lives than the seatbelts,” says Joel Africk, CEO, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “And based on the evidence in other smokefree states, Illinois should see a drop in lung cancer rates of up to 20 percent and a 10 percent decline in all tobacco-related deaths. We commend the governor and the Illinois General Assembly for their leadership and commitment to improving and protecting the lung health of all Illinoisans.”

“The Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco began working on a smoke-free law 19 years ago, and today marks a major milestone in those efforts,” said Janet Williams, co-chairman, Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco. “Because Illinois voters, the General Assembly and Governor Blagojevich recognize the health risks associated with secondhand smoke exposure, Illinois becomes smoke-free on Jan. 1, 2008.”

People may still smoke in their homes, cars, outdoors, private nursing home rooms, home offices not open to the public, retail tobacco shops, and certain hotel or motel rooms. Smokers that violate the law by smoking at indoor public places can be fined between $100 and $250. Establishments that violate the law can be charged an amount between $100 and $250 for the first violation and a minimum of $250 for a second violation within a year. Subsequent violations within a year of the first violation will cost establishments at least $2,500.

“The unsung heroes behind this victory are members of 60 grassroots coalitions guided by the American Lung Association that passed local ordinances and laid the foundation for this statewide law. Thanks to these heroes from all walks of life, everyone in Illinois—regardless of where they work or live, will be protected from secondhand smoke,” said Kathy Drea, director of Public Policy, American Lung Association of Illinois.

“We see workers from all walks of life in our practices who suffer because they work in a cloud of secondhand smoke,” said Kathleen J. Miller, M.D., president of the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians. “The Smoke Free Illinois Act supports families by ensuring safe, smoke-free workplaces which keeps workers healthier and on the job.”

The event was attended by a number of individuals who praised the governor for signing the legislation. They shared stories of survival and overcoming the devastating health effects of cigarette smoke they live with—despite the fact that none of them was a smoker.

Barb Nation, of Springfield, had a tumor and part of her lung removed at the age of 29. She now requires the use of oxygen and has chronic respiratory problems—her doctor was convinced she was a smoker when, in actuality she is a non-smoker surrounded by smoker’s.

“I am grateful to Governor Blagojevich and the American Cancer Society for making Smoke-Free Illinois a reality. This is a 30-year battle for me, and it’s now finally ended with the signing of this law,” said Nation.

Mary Rondoni of Rogers Park, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2003 after spending more than 15 years working in restaurants and bars that permit smoking. She has since undergone chemotherapy and radiation, as well as a feeding tube doctors put in place. She was forced to change careers and now works out of her home.

“I believe the public has spoken. If you want to light up, please do it at home where it doesn't compromise the health of others and where we earn a living,” said Rodoni.

Lisa Cristia of Chicago has never smoked but has spent much of her adult life working as a bartender or waitress in establishments that allow smoking. She began developing respiratory problems in her mid-20s, and she was diagnosed with stage three tongue and throat cancer. After having three-fourths of her tongue and 23 lymph nodes removed, she has had to relearn how to breathe, eat and speak.

“This is momentous for me and countless others. Starting in January, no one, in Illinois, will have to suffer from the toxic effects of second-hand smoke. Whether in their workplace or just hanging out with their friends and family in an indoor public setting. Now, I know that everything I went through was worth it. I would have given back every dime I made working in the hospitality business, if I could have had my health back. No amount of money was worth the suffering,” said Cristia.

This law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

from the Aug. 22-28, 2007, issue

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