URBANA – The debate about whether to ban smoking from public places moves to Urbana next month.
The Urbana City Council has scheduled a public forum on the smoking issue for March 9, between 7:30 and 9 p.m., at the Pollard Auditorium at the Forum at Carle, to the north of the parking garage on the east side of Carle Foundation Hospital.
Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said the meeting will be a council study session, but that it will mainly be devoted to presentations and public comment about the smoking issue. Champaign City Council members will also be invited to the forum, he said.
The first 20 minutes of the forum will be devoted to presentations on the smoking issue, with the Champaign-Urbana Smokefree Alliance, health organizations and the business community each making separate, short presentations, he said.
After the presentations, "it'll be open for anyone to speak and ask questions," Roberts said. "We're going to limit people to two or three minutes each."
Roberts, who favors making public places smoke-free, said the city council will take up the issue in earnest in the weeks after the public forum.
He said a draft ordinance is being prepared, and that ordinances from such cities as Springfield, Bloomington, Ind., and Chicago, are being obtained for council review.
"We're going to work with the business community and make sure everyone feels comfortable with what's happening," he said.
Alderman Charlie Smyth, D-Ward 1, who recently said he was tired of waiting for the Champaign council to act on the issue, said Tuesday it would be difficult for Urbana to enact a smoking ban without Champaign doing something similar.
"The view I get from my constituents is they would love to go smoke-free, but they don't want to put Urbana businesses at a competitive disadvantage," he said. "I don't see how one town could do it without the other."
But in Champaign, there appear to be only three advocates of banning smoking in restaurants and bars among the nine council members. A proposal to ban smoking in bars and restaurants was defeated 5-4 in a September straw poll among Champaign council members. Since then, one of the council members who supported a ban, Marci Dodds, has said she would abstain on the issue in the future because her husband is part-owner of a downtown Champaign bar.
Urbana Alderwoman Lynne Barnes, D-Ward 7, said she also favors working "hand in hand with Champaign in this."
"We really want to see Champaign come to the table," Barnes said. "At this point, I'm favoring some kind of incremental approach, rather than a total ban."