If legislation that passed committee Wednesday becomes law, Illinois could make a notorious kind of history: the state could be the first in America to loosen restrictions on smoking.
Two bills were approved by the House Executive Committee, both of which would ease the state's all-out ban on smoking indoors. Both bills are now headed to the full House, according to the State Journal-Register in Springfield.
The first, sponsored by Democrat Dan Burke of Chicago, would bring smoking back to Illinois casinos. The State Journal-Register reports on the case that the gambling lobby is making:
"Since the ban went into effect, casino revenues are down over 31 percent," said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. "It is very clear the majority of the drop was because of the smoking ban."
The ban was enacted in 2008.
Swoik acknowledged that some of the decrease was due to the economic downturn that resulted in people wagering less money. However, he said casinos in Indiana, Iowa and Missouri, which do not ban smoking, have seen revenue increases.
The gaming lobby is one of the state's more powerful, with heavy-hitters like Cook County Democratic Party chairman and County Assessor Joe Berrios at its back.
Another bill would allow bars, strip clubs and other establishments to apply for smoking licenses. For a fee, certain establishments could allow smoking, provided they installed filtration systems for the air. "It's about local control," Rep. Anthony DeLuca, the bill's sponsor, told SJ-R. "Let the business owner decide whether this is a benefit to their operation."
But Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Illinois, was unequivocal in her opposition to the new laws. She told the Daily Herald: “Smoking licenses, we call those licenses to kill.
"Any money made from a smoking license would not cover the eventual medical expenses," Drea said.
The two laws, House Bill 1310 and House Bill 1965, now head to the House floor for debate.