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Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005 08:46 pm

Up in smoke

How Springfield's proposed smoking ban went down in flames

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On paper, a Springfield smoking ban was a sure thing.
In May, the state Legislature passed House Bill 672, which amends the 1989 Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act by handing municipal governments the power to impose local smoking bans. Then, a poll commissioned this summer by Smoke Free Springfield, a coalition of 36 local organizations, showed that 65 percent of city residents supported a comprehensive plan to bar smoking in most public places. The State Journal-Register, Springfield’s daily newspaper, editorialized more than a dozen times in favor of anti-smoking laws. Feeling the heat, Mayor Tim Davlin toned down his position of opposing any kind of smoking ban to saying that he wanted to hear public input. During the first public hearing, ban supporters came fired up and, armed with white papers on the health hazards of secondhand smoke, showed that similar bans in other cities have had zero — and, in some cases, a positive — effect on local economies. They also stoked the embers by waxing pitiable with personal tales of tobacco-imposed anguish. Smoke Free Springfield, under the leadership of American Lung Association and American Heart Association lobbyists, appeared more organized and better funded than the ban’s foes — the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, tavern owners, and a handful of smokers who never held a single press conference or printed any literature, save for a few T-shirts reading “Support Hospitality Businesses, Oppose Smoking Ban.”
The measure proposed by Ward 10 Ald. Bruce Strom even had enough votes on both the public-affairs committee and the full City Council for passage. And yet, the issue has effectively been snuffed out for the time being, and it’s unclear when Springfield will have any kind of smoking ban at all.
Ironically, the person primarily responsible for extinguishing the smoking ban is Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, a man who spent a career fighting fires and rising to the position of Springfield fire chief before retiring.
The day the smoking-ban ordinance was scheduled for a vote by the public-affairs committee, Strom asked that it be tabled. Edwards cited concerns over the language of Strom’s ordinance and expressed doubts about whether the proposed ordinance was, in fact, legal under state law. As written, the ordinance prohibits smoking in all indoor public places but excludes nursing homes, private cars, and residences “except when used as a child care, adult day care, health-care facility, or any other home-based business open to the public.”
That was a problem for Edwards. “I won’t vote for something that’s got somebody’s private home in there,” he says. “I said, ‘Let’s talk about some of these other things,’ and they said ‘No, we want it our way’ — and I said, ‘Well, I can’t support it, then.’ ”
Edwards also had misgivings, after meeting with tavern owners in his ward, that the ban might affect local businesses. “There were a whole lot of things that worked in changing my mind: Wouldn’t you think that the business owner knows his clientele? And if he is telling me that this is his livelihood and his investment, don’t you think we ought to listen to those people? “Instead we’re listening to people who say their businesses will increase when those people don’t have any investment in that business. For me, that was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Bob Blair, owner of Pier 55, is one of the business owners who approached Edwards. If the proponents of the ban think that nonsmoking establishments would be popular, Blair asks, “why aren’t there a ton of them?”
Losing Edwards’ vote, indeed, was a major setback for smoking opponents, but Strom admits to several other missteps. From a political standpoint, at least, Strom knows that going for the whole ball of wax with a comprehensive ban may have been a mistake. However, he feels that the all-or-nothing approach was necessary. “A watered-down version may be a step in the right direction, but it’s not the right step,” Strom says. Instituting a partial ban, he maintains, might cause the public to grow complacent. From there, it would be difficult to take the next step toward a comprehensive ban. Another problem, from Strom’s point of view: The public may perceive that support for a smoking ban is so great that citizens assume that the ban will pass and not bother to voice concerns to their aldermen. The public must first get acclimated to the idea of a smoking ban, says Kathy Drea, public-policy director for the American Lung Association of Illinois and Iowa and project director for Smoke Free Illinois. Springfield’s campaign went much more quickly than normal, Drea admits. Her group is working to pass similar measures in Woodridge, Deerfield, Urbana-Champaign, Quincy, and Bloomington-Normal. In yanking his support, Edwards, who represented the crucial sixth vote needed to pass the ordinance, joined the ranks of aldermen who thought that the council could reach some middle ground. Days before the Springfield meeting, committee members Edwards, chairman and Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney, and Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager were set to vote to send the ordinance to the full council. Ward 4 Ald. Chuck Redpath and Ward 9 Ald. Tom Selinger sought a compromise. At least two other members of the council — Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil and Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz, neither of whom serves on the public-affairs committee — wanted no ban at all.
Type aside, the proposal’s derailment should come as no surprise. Wherever they are proposed, smoking bans instantly become controversial issues, especially when political capital is at stake. Edwards and Strom’s names have been wafting about for some time as potential mayoral candidates. But council coordinator Joe Davis, who keeps close tabs on the aldermen, doesn’t think that the men are jockeying for position. “You can’t win or lose an election on a smoking issue. It comes down to what you do for your ward. People are more concerned about potholes and sewers’ being flooded than they are about a smoking ban,” Davis says. Kunz, who has been friends with Edwards for almost 28 years, says that Edwards has told him that he doesn’t want to be mayor. And Strom, who, because of terms limits, must leave the council in 2007, flatly denies that his crusade against public smoking has anything to do with political aspirations. Physicians from the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine approached Strom earlier this year and suggested that he propose an anti-smoking ordinance, he says. Initially worried that such a move would stir controversy, he says, he jumped on board after mulling it over and getting some prodding from his wife. But that, too, could be a smokescreen. As of June 30, according to the Illinois Board of Elections campaign-disclosure Web site, Strom’s fundraising committee had $48,137.92 in the bank. That was more than the amount amassed by Redpath, who has since announced his candidacy for a seat in the Legislature, and it’s among the most collected by any elected city official. As the decisive vote, Edwards says, Strom should have listened to his suggestions. Strom disagrees. “If I come to you and I’ve been on board with your proposal and now I say, ‘I’ve read it, and now I think we need to change a couple things,’ and they know I’m one of the votes, I think it’s time to discuss it,” Edwards says. “The problem that we had was that we couldn’t reach any compromises.”
“The way I read it, Bruce technically banned smoking in all public buildings in Springfield,” Kunz says. “I don’t consider a motel room or somebody’s private residence a public building.”
Over time, Edwards grew leery, worried that Strom was holding the ordinance “too close to the vest.”
During the second public hearing, McNeil also accused Strom of not being forthcoming and argued that discussing an ordinance that even aldermen hadn’t seen seemed futile. “My parents told me that if people aren’t going to give you all the facts, they’ve got something to hide and I believe that,” Edwards says. “That is nonsense,” Strom says. “The City Council listened to me, and they all agreed that we would have public hearings. “We agreed that no ordinances would be introduced before we held public hearings. Nobody objected and said they wanted to see what I had written down. Now they’re complaining that this was some big secret. They’re looking back and they’re trying to find reasons to complain.”
He adds: “There is a relatively small number of people in our community who are exercising an extraordinary amount of influence on the aldermen of the city of Springfield. “Owners and operators are fearful of change, but what I think is happening is that the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association in the city of Springfield is adding fuel to that fear and stirring that fear among the owners unnecessarily, and that’s one of the catalysts that has caused resistance to a comprehensive smoking ordinance.”
But Edwards says he that can’t be faulted for being “smarter today than I was yesterday.”
“It sounds like I’m looking for ways to get out of this, and I’m not, because I’d like to see the smoking ban. I don’t like going into a restaurant and having smoke blown in my face — but I gotta look at all the facts and every part of this.”
Edwards continues: “I’ve had a couple of people e-mail me and say if I don’t vote for this, they’ll work against me, they’ll vote against me, but as a leader you gotta look at all the facts — you can’t just look at threats. “And you can’t criticize me as taking the easy way out. It would’ve been easy for me, because I was the sixth vote, just to go along with it, but it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Despite the setback in Springfield, Strom and Drea insist that the ban is not dead; an ordinance may remain tabled in committee for up to six months, or 180 days. In the meantime, supporters of the ban are hoping to hear from Attorney General Lisa Madigan on whether bowling alleys and private clubs fall under the definition of public places and may therefore be included under municipal no-smoking laws. Strom still wants a total ban but concedes that it might have to be done piecemeal. Other aldermen have suggested compromises in which smoking in restaurants, but not bars, could be regulated. Kunz will only get behind an ordinance that bans smoking in dining establishments opening after the first of the year. Davlin says he will wait to see whether a compromise on Strom’s plan can be reached, but he suspects that an amended version of Strom’s ordinance will emerge soon. Joe Cherner, founder of East Lansing, Mich.-based Bar and Restaurant Employees Advocating Together for a Healthy Environment, says he believes that it’s only a matter of time before Springfield and most other places become smoke-free. “The tobacco industry knows that it’s no secret that, eventually, all cities will pass smoke-free-workplace legislation because you can’t just keep making employees breathe something that causes cancer. It’s just a question of how much time it’ll take.”
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