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Five years later, ‘people used to’ smoke-free bars

Smoke Free Illinois Act passed 2008. | Sun-Times Media

Smoke Free Illinois Act passed in 2008. | Sun-Times Media

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Smoking continues decline

After the Smoke-Free Illinois Act was enacted in 2008, Illinoisans who reported smoking declined from 21.3 percent in 2008 to 16.9 percent in 2010. The number of people who called the Illinois Tobacco Quitline increased from 7,629 calls in 2008 to 24,575 calls in 2012 — a 45 percent increase.

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Updated: March 4, 2013 1:52AM

It’s been five years since the passage of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which prohibits smoking in all indoor public places and workplaces including bars and restaurants.

The bill’s chief sponsor, state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said supporting the bill “was the right thing to do.”

“We saw grass-roots organization — the lung association, the cancer association, the heart association — that generated a groundswell of support,” Link said. “It was amazing. The day after the bill passed in the Senate, 10,000 people rallied in Springfield.”

Link, whose photo, marred by a red slash, once hung in protest inside Illinois bars and restaurants, said 500 liquor licenses have been issued throughout the state since the indoor smoking ban was passed in 2007.

“A lot of the taverns and casinos were opposed to the bill,” Link said. “They said it would cause them to go bankrupt. But I don’t think we deterred the bar business. I think we enhanced it. People feel better going into a bar knowing they’re not breathing secondhand smoke.”

Nicky Kelver, day manager of Flanagan’s Sports Bar and Grill in North Chicago, said the law, which was enacted Jan. 1, 2008, did affect the business.

“I feel we have lost some customers because of the smoking ban,” she said. “We still have smokers who come in who don’t want to go outside to smoke and freeze their butts off. But they’re not going to quit smoking because you can’t smoke in a bar.”

At Fatman’s Pizza in Gurnee, manager Mike Sroka said he had heard no complaints about the ban in recent years.

“I think people are used to it,” he said.

Lake County was a leader in the state in protecting residents from secondhand smoke. Eleven municipalities — Highland Park was the first — and unincorporated Lake County accounted for a quarter of all local smoke-free laws in Illinois before the Smoke-Free Illinois Act won passage.

Since then, more communities have taken action for areas not covered under the act and a total of 19 Lake County communities have banned smoking in parks. In addition, all Lake County Housing Authority buildings went smoke-free, including inside individual units.

Barbara de Nekker, a Lake County Health Department community health specialist, was in the vanguard of the smoke-free movement in Lake County, which was led by affluent communities. After Highland Park approved a ban, Deerfield, Lake Forest, Vernon Hills and Libertyville followed.

“Statistics show that the higher the socioeconomic status, the less likely you are to smoke,” de Nekker said. “And we saw a certain domino effect.

“People who want to smoke can still smoke,” de Nekker said. “They just have to go outside.”

A 2006 U.S. Surgeon General report estimated that exposure to secondhand smoke kills about 50,000 people per year in the U.S. and about 2,000 in Illinois.

“It’s a health issue,” Link said. “We have to reduce health care costs related to smoking. And I’ve spoken to a lot of workers over the last five years who are extremely appreciative of this — that they don’t have to breathe somebody else’s smoke everyday.”

According to data supplied by the Lake County Health Department, an estimated 30,200 heart disease hospitalizations in Illinois have been prevented since passage of he smoke-free act, at an estimated savings of $1.2 billion in hospital costs.

As of January 2011, more than half of the country — 30 states and counting — is smoke free.

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