Group flunks Illinois’ anti-smoking efforts

Kendra Marr

Although activists say the state overall has failed in its anti-smoking efforts, Evanston is making progress.

“Evanston’s halfway there,” said Dr. Louis Rowitz, chairman of the Evanston Community Health Advisory Board. “We just have another half to go,”

This month, the American Lung Association of Illinois gave the state a failing grade for the third year in a row for its efforts to curb smoking. Illinois received an “F” on smoking prevention programs, regulation of secondhand smoke and limiting youth access to cigarettes. Its only passing grade on the report card — a “C” — was for the 98-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes.

But Evanston is ahead of the state, which does not have a ban on smoking in most public facilities. Last June the city banned smoking in workplaces, in common areas of apartment buildings and within 25 feet of entrances. Smokers can still light up when they go out to Evanston bars and restaurants.

“The City Council was concerned that preventing smoking would hurt business, even though there is evidence from cities around the country that passed that amendment and haven’t seen a decline in business,” Rowitz said.

Evanston controls its own clean indoor air ordinance, unlike other Illinois cities where such ordinances are regulated by the state. But the city still is more lenient than nearby Skokie and Wilmette, two communities that passed bans on smoking in public places.

Evanston business owners are satisfied with the current situation.

“At this point (the ordinances) seem fairly equitable,” said Scott Anderson, director of marketing for the Clean Plate Club Restaurant Group, which includes three downtown restaurants. “A person who is not interested being around smoke has the option to still go out and eat. A vast majority (of restaurants) have non-smoking sections and most make it smoke free in dining rooms.”

About 70 percent of Evanston restaurants have smoke-free areas, said Anderson, who also owns Pete Miller’s Steakhouse, 1557 Sherman Ave.

But Evanston’s ordinance does not deter smokers, said Jay Terry, Evanston’s director of health and human services.

“All that it’s done is move the litter pile of cigarette butts 25 feet away from the door for those people who do not want to deal with secondhand smoke,” Terry said.

The American Lung Association plans to help Illinois improve its failing grades.

“Chicago is one of the last big cities in the country without strong smoke-free ordinances,” said Kevin Tynan, director of marketing for the association. “We’re going to try to reverse that.”

The association is already working on programs and lobbying lawmakers to secure smoke-free air in public places. Chicago will go smoke-free in the not-so-distant future, Tynan said.

Bill Gilmore, who owns Bill’s Blues, 1029 Davis St., said stricter anti-smoking laws would kill his restaurant and bar.

“It would probably put me out of business,” Gilmore said. “I would be the only non-smoking blues club in the Chicago area. People would just head a mile south to Howard Street to smoke.”

Gilmore said ordinances should instead focus on helping people quit smoking.

Most business owners believe that any additional changes to Evanston’s smoking policy would need to originate from the state legislature.

“If the entire state went smoke-free it would sit better with restaurant owners,” Anderson said. “To start picking on little communities to go non-smoking makes it inequitable and unfair.”

Reach Kendra Marr at [email protected]

Body 2 ———————————————————————–

Group flunks Illinois’ anti-smoking efforts