Editorial: Emotional arguing will fade as people adapt to new law


It's probably not often enough that Springfield is this far ahead of the curve, but indeed that is the position we find ourselves when it comes to smoking bans. In fact, our humble city is the poster child for smoking bans as the state of Illinois prepares to roll out the statewide ban on Jan 1.

We suspect this could be one of the smokiest New Years Eves ever in bars where smoking is still allowed. But in Springfield it will just be another blissful night of clean air. A year ago September, a smoking ban went into effect for Springfield and unincorporated areas of Sangamon County.

During the months of debate over the ban, few topics elicited as much comment. Our Opinion pages were filled with letters arguing for and against the ban. Angry bar owners showed up at city hall to fight the ban. Health advocates showed up too, pointing out the hazards of secondhand smoke and the fact that many other cities, counties and even states had instituted smoking bans without disastrous financial results.

In the end, health won out both in Springfield and, as of New Years Day, in Illinois. Many people have probably put the ban out of their minds up to this point. Some do not even know the new law is about to take place. But they soon will.

The brouhaha over the smoking ban has definitely died down in Springfield. And even though the new statewide smoking ban is less than a month away, the noisy debates and complaining of the past are nowhere to be found. Chances are things will get a bit noisier over the next month.

A media blitz will occur over the next few weeks to remind people that come Jan. 1 they will no longer be able to light up in just about any public place, including restaurants and bars.  As this campaign picks up, so will all the old arguments and complaints we've already heard.

One of the most persistent arguments is that a smoking ban in public places is bad for business - especially for bars and restaurants. Predictions of businesses failing due to the Springfield ban were certainly common prior to its passage.

The American Cancer Society and other groups lobbying for the smoking bans have long pointed to studies showing that smoking bans are not the death of business. "More than 20 independent studies show smoke-free laws have a neutral or positive impact on the hospitality industry," says an American Cancer Society fact sheet.

And now the Cancer Society has Springfield to point to as well. A year after the local ban went into effect, SJR reporter Chris Wetterich compiled a report demonstrating that Springfield's tax revenue from bars and restaurants has grown vigorously. In the two quarters after the ban was enacted, city tax revenue from restaurants grew twice as fast as before the ban.

Facts, however, can't always counter emotions - and the smoking ban is a very emotional issue.  Yet if Springfield is any indication, the emotional arguing will fade fairly quickly as people adapt to the new law.

While we will never convince some smokers, the law certainly will prove worthwhile. There is a reason Illinois is joined by 22 other states in banning smoking in public places. Secondhand smoke kills people - in many cases people who wisely chose not to smoke themselves. The Cancer Society says for every eight smokers who die from tobacco use, one non-smoker dies from exposure to secondhand smoke. That works out to 2,900 deaths annually in Illinois and 65,000 nationwide.

That, above all else, is why on Jan. 1 you will no longer be able to pollute the indoor air with tobacco smoke.