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Thursday, March 6, 2014 12:01 am

No smoking, anywhere


The dangers of secondhand smoke are making it increasingly inconvenient for smokers to get their fix.

January marked six years since Illinois became smoke-free. The initial ban, which limited the use of cigarettes in indoor public places, aimed to both decrease the prevalence of smoking, and to protect non-smokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

But simply banning smoking indoors isn’t enough shield us from secondhand smoke, health officials are saying.

Two bills to further limit smoking are making their way through the Illinois General Assembly. One aims to ban smoking in vehicles with minors. The other proposes to ban smoking on any public college campus in Illinois.

Most adults agree smoking should be banned in cars with kids, according to a study by the University of Michigan last year. Yet only five states actually have a ban. That is why Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, has proposed a bill that would ban smoking in a motor vehicle containing any passengers under age 18.

The legislation states that police may not stop a vehicle only for smoking in the car with a child. Rather, police would be able to issue a citation if they had pulled the vehicle over for another violation. Violators would be fined up to $100.

Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy of the Illinois chapter of the American Lung Association, told the Illinois Senate’s public health committee that even low levels of secondhand smoke are harmful. She said the concentration of smoke in a vehicle is up to 60 times greater than in a smoky bar.

But similar legislation has failed in the past, including a bill last year that proposed only banning smoking in vehicles with children under the age of 13, and a bill in 2007 that did make it to the House floor but received only 18 votes in favor of it and 91 “no” votes.

Another suggested smoking ban, the Smoke-Free Campus Act, would ban smoking on all public college campuses in Illinois. The Illinois House Higher Education Committee voted 9-3 in February in support of the ban.

Some college campuses in Illinois already ban smoking, such as the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. While the state’s 2008 ban applies to all indoor areas on campuses, in those that do allow smoking, it is sometimes permitted in the quad or parking lots. If the bill passes, smoking would be banned everywhere on campus property with the exception of moving vehicles that are traveling through campus. It would be up to individual colleges to decide how to enforce the ban.

In January, a U.S. Surgeon General’s report added several conditions to the list of health problems that can be caused by secondhand smoke, including diabetes, colon and liver cancer, and strokes for non-smokers.

“We don’t know everything about smoking,” Drea said. “It needs to be taken very seriously.”

 A purpose of both bills is to limit the amount of exposure to secondhand smoke, but Drea said the ban also aims to cause university employees and students to quit smoking.

These proposed restrictions come after the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance in January to ban the use of electronic cigarettes indoors and the February announcement that CVS Caremark will no longer be selling tobacco products. Additionally, cigarette and tobacco prices have gone up over recent years in Illinois as a result of sin taxes put in place by the General Assembly.

As locations to buy and smoke cigarettes decrease over time, the question lingers: is smoking becoming taboo?

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, rates have declined. While about 25 percent of adults Illinoisans smoked in 1996, only about 16.9 percent smoked in 2010. People are still smoking. They’re just running out of places to do it.

Higher Education committee member Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, who voted in support of the campus ban bill, pointed out such a ban may cause smokers to go off campus to get their fix.

“When I travel around in public buildings and I see people smoking, they’re doing that even at 10 below,” he said.

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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