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updated: 2/20/2012 2:24 PM

Resistance to smoking ban has burned out over years

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  • In the years since Illinois' smoking ban was approved, smokers have learned to step outside if they want to light up.  $PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Fle photo$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

    In the years since Illinois' smoking ban was approved, smokers have learned to step outside if they want to light up. $PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Fle photo$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

By Ryan Voyles

SPRINGFIELD -- When lawmakers discussed and eventually approved Illinois' statewide indoor smoking ban five years ago, it was a controversial debate that lit a fire under both local and state officials.

But now, even those who initially opposed the ban have largely accepted it as part of everyday life.

"It's not really a problem anymore," said Gary Roberts, owner of Last Chance Saloon & Grill in Grayslake. "Customers know the rules and they go outside to smoke."

While the ban initially hurt his business, Roberts said the addition of an outdoor patio has turned the ban into a nonissue.

Lawmakers approved the ban in 2007, and Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson said complaints from businesses about the ban have become almost nonexistent.

"Everyone seems to accept it and move on," he said.

"It's one of the very few things done at the state level that has been fully supported by residents," said Naperville Mayor George Pradel, who calls the ban a success.

Well, not everyone.

Some lawmakers have called for loosening restrictions, including exemptions for casinos like the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and Hollywood Casino in Aurora, where revenues fell sharply after the ban actually took effect Jan. 1, 2008.

Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin saw a more than 22 percent drop in receipts, from nearly $437 million in 2007 to about $339 million the next year.

The Hollywood Casino in Aurora did not fare much better, dropping near 20 percent in receipts, from about $272 million to $220 million.

"The ban has really hurt casinos; they and the state have lost millions since it went into effect," said Tom Swoik, head of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

Several lawmakers have pushed for certain exemptions, and Rep. Randy Ramey, a Carol Stream Republican, believes there could be support for smoking licenses, which municipalities could give to casinos, bars, private clubs and adult entertainment venues.

"It helps bring in revenue to municipalities who are struggling and it gives businesses options," Ramey said.

But pushes for those exemptions have fallen short, and as the smoking ban becomes a way of life in Illinois, future efforts might get harder. Senate President John Cullerton is a major proponent of the ban, and Gov. Pat Quinn has said he doesn't favor rolling it back.

That's good news for supporters.

"The air is more fresh and it's just feels cleaner," said Mike Nicholaou, owner of The Patio of Glen Ellyn, a restaurant.

And supporters say that since the ban took effect in 2008, hospitalizations for tobacco-related heart conditions have dropped more than 9 percent, according to the Lung Association in Illinois.

Illinois is one of 35 states that prohibits indoor smoking in public places. While some states have exemptions for certain businesses including bars or casinos, Illinois does not allow for exemptions.

Neighboring states like Wisconsin have similar smoking laws in place, while Indiana lawmakers are working on a smoking bill which would exempt casinos and other businesses.

But some feel Illinois would be taking a step back if it were to lessen its smoking ban.

"It wouldn't make sense to back off, it would be like regressing," Pradel said.

While some bar owners might still be interested in exemptions to allow smoking, others like Roberts have come to accept the ban.

"At this point I think it's just an understood rule -- if you want to smoke, you take it outside."

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