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Stott: Smoking ban changes standards

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Do you remember five years ago, when smoking inside public establishments was legal in Illinois?

Maybe you remember the sharp smell of burning tobacco during your meals at restaurants, or the impulsive desire to wash your hair and clothes after coming home from a bar or casino.

Or, you could have been one of the smokers who appreciated being able to light up inside a public place. It was nice to be able to enjoy a tobacco product without being ostracized to the outdoors. For you, the indoor smoking ban was an unpleasant effect of an overbearing government.

I was not yet 21 when the ban went into effect, so I didn’t fully grasp the effects of smoking inside bars and casinos. But I definitely knew what it was like to dine in a restaurant with a smoking section. It was the reality of venturing into a public place.

Smoking was allowed in many public establishments, and people knew that was a hazard of going outside the comfort and personal regulation of their own homes. We know now how this expectation has been transformed.

A seemingly simple change – a ban – has made a big difference. There now is a lawful expectation that when you enter a public place in this state, no one will be smoking inside.

The most striking effect of the ban isn’t the positive effect on health or the eradication of unpleasant smoke (although those are clearly irreplaceable benefits). Most astonishing is how quickly the norm was altered. Five years is a short amount of time. Since the ban went into effect, we’ve shifted our expectations of a public place’s atmosphere.

Now, if you walked into an Illinois restaurant and smelled smoke, you would be shocked.

What’s more is the overwhelmingly positive response. A Daily Chronicle story published earlier this week quoted bar owners who said their customers are pleased with the regulation. Even smokers themselves claim they benefit from the smoking ban.

We didn’t really realize how pleasant it would be to avoid inhaling secondhand smoke until we didn’t have to. Now, the smoking ban is overwhelmingly popular and a blessing to our state.

Lawmakers of today should observe this almost entirely positive change and realize that a lot of good can come of a controversial decision. The only thing worse than making a bad or unpopular decision is the inability to make any decision at all.

• • •

I wrote earlier this year about the necessity of libraries within our communities despite the shift toward digital materials and remote accessibility. I received some wonderful responses about the state of our libraries, including some information from Dee Coover and Nancy Allen of the DeKalb Public Library.

They indicated that hard copy check out from the DeKalb Public Library still far outpaces digital rentals. That fact alone should convince taxpayers that libraries continue to be pertinent functions of funding. As long as the demand exists, so should the supply.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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