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Group says ban on smoking will improve health DeKalb council will hear next from bar, restaurant owners

DeKALB - The city council heard from a group Monday that wants to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places, and next month the council is expected to hear from an opposing group that wants to preserve residents' right to light up. The DeKalb Smoke-Free Coalition, an offshoot of the city's Citizens' Environmental Commission, gave the city council its findings on why DeKalb should ban smoking in public places. The coalition emphasizes the dangers that come from inhaling secondhand smoke, such as lung disease. But after an hour-long presentation, aldermen said it's only fair to hear from the opposition - bar and restaurant owners. Kim Knowlton, co-owner of KJ's Tap and Grill, said she and other bar owners are working with the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association to bring forth information on why a smoking ban ordinance should not be passed. "I don't think (the coalition) covered all their bases," she said. James Grosklags, chairman of the antismoking coalition, said the group surveyed DeKalb residents and Northern Illinois University students in December. The survey found that 80 percent of DeKalb residents are not smokers and 75 percent ask to be seated in nonsmoking sections in restaurants. Grosklags said 73 percent of students ask to be served in nonsmoking sections. The group, which also is working with the American Lung Association, cited studies that purported to show how smoking bans improved a city's health. They said that in Helena, Mont., there was a 58 percent reduction in heart attacks from June to December 2004, the first six months that an antismoking ordinance was in place. Grosklags said he personally doesn't know if his lungs have been affected by secondhand smoke, but said he is motivated in pursuing the adoption of the ordinance to protect the health of people who work in bars and restaurants, as well as other nonsmokers. He said people get sick and die from lung disease. "Why are they unprotected from these dangers?" he asked. Studies of the financial impact of smoking bans show that in California, sales and employment grew during the first six months of the statewide smoking ban, and in Florida, restaurant revenues have increased. Grosklags said the positives of antismoking laws include a reduction in the number of high school-aged children who smoke. In California, smoking by high school students went from 21.6 percent in 2000 to 13.2 percent in 2004. He said some people who call themselves "social" smokers wouldn't smoke if the environment wasn't conducive to the behavior. Sycamore's city council decided in July not to take any action toward restricting smoking in the city's restaurants and bars. Aldermen said a smoking ordinance could hurt local businesses and infringe on the rights of patrons and business owners to make their own decisions about smoking. They also had concerns that an antismoking ordinance would be difficult to enforce. The council is expected to hear from bar owners at an October meeting before making any decision on an ordinance banning smoking in all or some public places. Aracely Hernandez can be reached at ahernandez@daily-chronicle.com.

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