Illinois lawmakers giving up on trying to soften the smoking ban

The following article was circulated by Kathy Drea of the American Lung Association of Illinois. That state is standing firm against efforts to weaken or overturn its statewide smoke-free air law which has been in effect since the beginning of 2008.

Opponents of the law are pinning their hopes on a constitutional challenge. As noted in the article, “There are some lawsuits out there challenging the constitutionality of state governments ability to regulate smoking in private businesses.” It echoes the arguments of Bob Levy of the Libertarian Cato Institute, whom I recently debated in St. Louis, and who views smoking in private businesses as off-limits to government regulation. Kathy Drea and I disagree and I would expect the courts to do likewise.

Illinois lawmakers giving up on trying to soften the smoking ban
Jason Nevel, Quad-City Times | Posted: Friday, April 24, 2009 3:00 pm

SPRINGFIELD — Nearly two years after lawmakers approved a statewide smoking ban, early attempts to soften the law were shot down.

This spring, lawmakers have just about given up trying.

“I think with the makeup of this General Assembly, it’s a dead issue,” said Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, who sponsored legislation last year to repeal the ban outright.

Cultra was one of several downstate lawmakers who struck out last year trying to carve out significant exemptions to the ban. Any attempt this year would be futile, he said.

“It’s a prerogative of the (House) speaker to which committee the legislation goes,” Cultra said. “When he’s not favorable — nothing happens.”

The statewide smoking ban went into effect Jan. 1, 2008. Last year, efforts at making exemptions for casinos, private clubs, Veterans of Foreign Wars halls and fraternity houses died.

This year, lawmakers revisited the issue briefly to set rules on how to enforce the ban and allow smoking in university laboratories for research purposes. Other than that, one attempt was made to establish a smoking license, which would have been similar to a liquor license, and exclude religious ceremonies from the ban.

“You’ve got the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society, and they’re pretty strong lobby groups,” said Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan.

Kathy Drea, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association, said the media coverage two years ago enhanced the public’s knowledge of the dangers of second-hand smoke.
“There were over 2,400 newspaper articles, and I think it just raised the awareness,” Drea said.

Even if legislation made its way to the governor’s office, Pat Quinn has been a strong supporter of the ban and may veto it.

The smoking license legislation, House Bill 1145, was voted down 4-9 by a House committee.

Legislation that would allow smoking during certain religious ceremonies, Senate Bill 1685, was approved by the Senate and awaits further action in the House.

The best chance of altering the law this year is through the courts, according to Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline.

“There are some lawsuits out there challenging the constitutionality of state governments ability to regulate smoking in private businesses,” Jacobs said.

Drea said “bring on” any lawsuit because 25 states ban smoking altogether.

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