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DeKalb considers more restrictive smoking laws

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 11:17 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – It could soon be illegal to smoke electronic cigarettes in public places or to light up on a public patio in DeKalb.

The DeKalb City Council this week took the first step toward including public patios in the places where smoking is banned and adding electronic cigarettes to be barred under the city’s public smoking ban. Along with those changes, aldermen also could change regulations on where a tobacco store owner could set up shop in the city.

If the council approves the ordinance changes at its next meeting, they will become law.

First Ward Alderman David Jacobson cast the lone vote against the changes, denouncing them as harmful to business that allow smoking on patios or tobacco shops.

“As the smoker on the board, I see all sorts of holes in this,” Jacobson said. “It’s possibly the most business unfriendly change in our code that I’ve ever seen.”

Cali Walker, the general manger for Rosy’s Roadhouse, believes the crackdown will cause people to stay at home and drink rather than come to the bar. On a busy night, about 100 people, she said, will be on the bar’s patio smoking while they drink; she estimates that’s about a fifth of the customers at her bar near Northern Illinois University.

“People would still come to the bar, but they like to be able to sit around a table and smoke,” Walker said. “We probably will see a change in our business.”

Members of the city’s Environmental Commission recommended the council ban smoking on outdoor patios because of the known dangers from secondhand smoke, City Attorney Dean Frieders said.

City staff also had concerns about unknown dangers of e-cigarettes. The battery-operated devices heat a nicotine solution to produce an odorless vapor. Solutions come in a variety of flavors such as fruit, candy or spices. The council passed a temporary ordinance in March to handle any potential e-cigarette businesses, but needed to put permanent regulations in place by September.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve been unable to find any scholastic research that finds any health benefit from e-cigarettes or finds anything other than the fact that they do produce significant toxins that, in some ways, even the secondhand emissions are worse than tobacco,” Frieders said.

Some of the city’s new regulations, such as those about where a tobacco retailer can open, align with state law. New tobacco stores would have to be built at least 1,000 feet away from any school or university, would not be permitted to have a liquor or medical marijuana license and would have to be in a freestanding building.

Jacobson questioned if the new rules for a tobacco shop would cause some existing stores near the Northern Illinois University campus to close. Frieders assured him as long as those businesses stayed open and under the same ownership, they would be grandfathered under the former regulations.

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