Smoke screen

Posted: 4/1/2011

From Chicago Tribune:

Illinois' smoking ban ranks among the nation's strongest because it covers everyone, almost everywhere, in public. There's no exception for casinos, bars or offices.

Not yet, at least.

The 2007 law is under attack: On Tuesday, the Illinois House passed a bill to allow smoking in Illinois casinos.

Another bill on the House floor would further eviscerate the smoking ban. It would let municipal liquor commissions issue smoking licenses to bars, private clubs, casinos, and other establishments. Hmm. Handing local officials tremendous power to decide whether a bar merits a smoking section. Anyone in this pay-to-play state see a problem there?

A third bill would allow "designated segregated ventilated smoking rooms" in gaming facilities such as racetracks and off-track betting parlors.

This is a trifecta of terrible ideas. These bills would cripple what has been an effective and popular law. Lawmakers should stop them.

Why have these proposals emerged now? The state needs money.

The sponsor of the bill to allow casino smoking, state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, said the ban has cost the state several hundred million dollars in lost tax revenues from casinos because Illinois smokers trek to Iowa, Wisconsin or Indiana, where smoking is allowed in casinos. Under his bill, the Illinois casino ban would be reimposed if neighboring states banned smoking in casinos.

"Let's be real," said Burke, who voted for the state's smoke-free law four years ago. "This is not about the smoking issue. This is about the money."

OK, let's be real. It's about the money. Proponents are putting a price tag on the health of workers and patrons of casinos. They're saying: We'll take a risk on your health because the state and its casinos will reap some bucks in return.

The smoking law has been successful. People don't have to wonder if a club, bar or restaurant has a strict or lenient policy, whether they'll come home hacking and reeking of smoke. Workers don't to worry about whether they're sacrificing their lungs for employment.

Last December, the U.S. surgeon general's office issued its latest report on smoking. The blunt message: Any exposure to tobacco smoke - even from the occasional cigarette or secondhand smoke - can cause immediate damage.

"There is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke," Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said.

No safe level.

The Illinois Senate will soon consider the casino carve-out bill. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, opposes it, as he has other efforts to undercut the smoking ban.

He's absolutely right. Let's not create hazards to the health of Illinois citizens.

Original here.