Rosemont's convention center could get a temporary exemption in the state smoking ban that would allow it to host a tobacco industry trade show next year.
Organizers of the Tobacco Plus Convenience Expo, which has been held in Las Vegas for the past decade, are considering holding an additional show in summer 2015 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
Because attendees often sample cigarettes and tobacco products at the Las Vegas show, organizers lobbied for an exemption in the Illinois smoking ban that would open up the door to the expo coming to Rosemont.
The exemption, which passed the state House and Senate late last month, would allow the village-owned convention center to host the expo anytime until Oct. 1, 2015. Gov. Pat Quinn has about 50 days left to decide whether to sign or veto the bill. A spokesman said Quinn is reviewing the bill to determine what action he will take.
While the proposed tobacco industry show isn't official, "without the legislation, the conversation couldn't even happen," said Chris Stephens, executive director of the convention center.
Susan Reuter, president of Branford, Connecticut-based Reuter Exposition Services, which puts on the tobacco expo, said she is talking with Rosemont officials about the possibility of bringing the expo to town.
Reuter organized the Vapor World Expo, a convention for businesses in the smokeless tobacco industry, in May at the Rosemont convention center.
Some 4,000 manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers and others in the tobacco industry attend the annual expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center, next scheduled for Jan. 28-29, 2015.
If another show comes to Rosemont, it could be targeted for June or July 2015, Reuter said.
She said convention centers generally have high ceilings and good ventilation systems to lessen the amount of smoke in the hall. Even then, she said, attendees are there to sample and do business, not "walk around with a cigarette or cigar in their hands."
"The basis of it is it's a trade show and people who come are buyers, and like any trade show generally, sampling is done," she said. "Tobacco is still legal and it's a product that many people want to sample before they purchase it."
According to the legislation sponsored by state Rep. Michael McAuliffe, the expo would be closed to the general public, and only those involved in the tobacco industry would be allowed to attend. Attendees and exhibitors must be at least 21. Smoking wouldn't be allowed in any public area besides the convention hall where the trade show takes place.
McAuliffe, a Chicago Republican whose district includes Rosemont, said the convention would yield economic benefits for Rosemont, such as visitors staying at nearby hotels and shopping at the outlet mall.
McAuliffe's amendment was opposed by supporters of the smoking ban, who argued the exemption would weaken a law aimed at improving health.