As Lake County residents prepare to celebrate the new year, they can join the rest of the state in marking the fifth anniversary of the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which protects everyone in all indoor public places and workplaces, from the health risks associated with secondhand smoke exposure.
On January 1, 2008, Illinois enacted the strongest clean indoor air law in the country with the bill's chief sponsor being Lake County's own State Senator Terry Link of Waukegan.
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Lake County has been a leader in protecting residents from the harms of secondhand smoke. When the Smoke Free Illinois Act passed, 11 municipalities and unincorporated Lake County already had smoke-free workplace laws - a quarter of all the local smoke-free laws in Illinois at the time. Since then, more communities have taken action for areas not covered under the Act and a total of 19 Lake County communities currently have smoke-free parks. In addition, all Lake County Housing Authority buildings went smoke-free, including inside individual units.
We know that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Sixty-nine of the chemicals in secondhand smoke cause cancer. Children and adults with allergies or breathing problems often feel worse when exposed to secondhand smoke.
The landmark Smoke Free Illinois legislation prohibits smoking in all indoor public places and workplaces including bars and restaurants. As of January 2011, more than half of the country (30 states and counting) is smoke free. Smoke-free laws are popular because they improve the public's health and reduce healthcare costs to treat those with smoking-related diseases.
Here are a few of the benefits of being smoke free, according to statistics from the Illinois Department of Public Health:
• In 2008, 21.2% of Illinois adults smoked; that number dropped to 16.9% in 2012.
• After Smoke Free Illinois went into effect, tobacco-related hospitalizations and healthcare costs have decreased substantially. In fact, hospitalizations for tobacco-related diseases are well below those in the two years prior to the Smoke Free Illinois Act.
• Heart disease hospitalizations have shown the greatest decline. It's estimated that more than 30,200 heart disease hospitalizations in Illinois have been prevented, which translates into an estimated savings of $1.2 billion in hospital costs alone; the average cost for heart disease admissions is nearly $39,000.
It's clear that Smokefree Illinois improves public health and reduces healthcare costs for all Illinoisans. But there's still more work to do to make more areas in our communities smoke free. Support smoke-free policies in multi-unit buildings like apartment and condominium buildings. If your community has a local college or university, help make it a smoke-free campus. And support tobacco-free policies for parks, beaches and other community outdoor spaces.
Critical to ensuring the law stays strong is to maintain funding from the state for tobacco prevention and control programs based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention best practice guidelines and evidence-based programs. Only then can we continue to enjoy a smoke-free Illinois.
For more local information, visit www.lakecountyil.gov/health/tobaccofree, or for personalized technical assistance developing your own smoke-free policy, contact the Lake County Health Department's Tobacco Free Lake County program at (847) 377-8090. Tobacco Free Lake County is funded in part by the Illinois Department of Public Health.