County committee considers proposed smoking ban

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115273193611612.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding, more than 3,000 nonsmokers died from secondhand smoke exposure, 46,000 succumbed to heart disease and more than 400 babies died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2005.’);

Winnebago County officials are contemplating a way to keep smoke from getting in your eyes. The County Board’s Health and Human Services Committee discussed a smoking ban during its July 5 meeting. But committee members ultimately voted 3-2 to lay over the issue and take it up again in August.

County Board member Phil Johnson (D-8), Health and Human Services Committee chairman, said Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 2400 June 26. The legislation allows municipalities without home rule to institute smoking bans. Johnson said Blagojevich’s move prompted investigating whether the county could or should deal with the issue.

“(The issue) simply appeared,” he said.

The new law amends the Illinois Clean Indoor Act, allowing all counties and municipalities to regulate smoking in any enclosed area used by the public or as a workplace, which the act doesn’t define as a public place, the legislation states. According to the bill, county ordinances can be enforced as well.

According to Johnson, the committee is only in an information-gathering mode. He said he’s still unsure how many establishments a proposed ban could affect, since the county only has jurisdiction over unincorporated areas within the county.

“We don’t have the right to tell municipalities what to do,” Johnson said.

He said in March more than 60 percent of Harlem Township voters—by a vote of 2,343 to 1,402—supported an advisory referendum regarding a proposed smoking ban. Johnson also said the City of Rockford had discussed a proposed ban.

Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) stressed a ban has only been discussed in passing. But he said the City would probably have a more in-depth discussion later, though he didn’t give a timeline. City Administrator Jim Ryan noted no committee action had been taken.

Winnebago County Health Department Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Larry Didier said Johnson asked him to enlighten the committee about smoking risks.

That appearance coincided with the June 27 release of U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding, more than 3,000 nonsmokers died from secondhand smoke exposure, 46,000 succumbed to heart disease and more than 400 babies died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2005.

But a smoking ban could kill business. John Parthenios, a partner in Parthenios Luncheonette, said a ban would severely cripple the 36-year-old downtown Rockford business. According to Parthenios: “Eighty percent of my customers smoke. We can’t (tell) them not to smoke.”

Former Sal’s Diner owner Mary Caiozzo, who now works at Paragon On State, said she and Paragon owner Mary Olson “are definitely against (the proposed ban).” A ban would put businesses without corporate support out of business, Caiozzo said.

“We’re going to lose a lot of business,” she said, referring to alleged effects of a proposed smoking ban.

Restrictions on smoking would not only affect Caiozzo’s employer, but how she’d spend free time: “If it’s banned, I’m not going out. If people don’t want to (deal with smoke), they shouldn’t go there. For a government to tell us what to do…I don’t think that’s right.”

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

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