CHAMPAIGN – Light up, everybody! Champaign apparently isn't going to become a smoke-free city in any way, shape or form.
In front of a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council narrowly rejected a proposal to ban smoking in city restaurants, bars and other public places.
The proposal was defeated 5-4 during the council study session.
The only proposition that could gain a council majority, also by a 5-4 vote, was to leave the city's smoking regulations as they are.
No ifs, ands or butts about it.
Six of the council's nine members made clear they favor some kind of smoke-free proposal – but they couldn't form a majority around a single proposal.
Scott Hays, president of the CU Smokefree Alliance, which had lobbied hard for some form of smoking ban, expressed disappointment with the outcome.
"It looks to me like it was a sound rejection," Hays said. "We'll certainly go to Urbana, given that Champaign has done nothing. We hope Urbana will show more leadership than the city of Champaign.
"I think they made a very poor decision in terms of public health and hurt the image of Champaign as a positive, progressive community," he added.
The study session originally was called to consider whether to ban smoking in all restaurants except those that hold a Class A (bar) liquor license. The council wound up not voting on that proposal after council members Kathy Ennen and Marci Dodds made it clear they could not support it – meaning the proposal lacked majority support.
Both Ennen and Dodds said if the city is going to ban smoking, it has to be in all public places, not just in restaurants. They both later voted in favor of a comprehensive ban.
"If the issue is a public health issue, then it has to be banned in all public places – restaurants, bars and workplaces," said Ennen, who is a nurse.
"I didn't think it was fair," said Dodds. "Don't pick out one group of people (restaurants) and say 'You're going down for a cause.'"
Some restaurant owners complained that their smoking patrons would simply transfer their businesses to bars that serve food if the restaurant-only ban was approved.
Council members Giraldo Rosales, Ken Pirok, Tom Bruno and Gina Jackson supported a restaurant-only smoking ban, which would have affected about 130 city restaurants that currently allow smoking. A similar number of restaurants are already smoke free.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart and council members Vic McIntosh, Mike La Due, Ennen and Dodds opposed a restaurant-only ban.
When it came to a comprehensive smoking ban, Pirok and Jackson switched sides and voted with the mayor, La Due and McIntosh to snuff out that proposal.
Ennen, Dodds, Bruno and Rosales favored a comprehensive ban.
Jackson, a 23-year Army veteran, said she couldn't support making American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars clubs smoke-free.
The meeting attracted an overflow crowd of both smoking-rights supporters and smoke-free advocates, with the anti-smoking supporters making up a much larger segment of the audience.
Audience members spoke passionately on both sides of the issue.
Dr. Robert Scully, chief medical officer with Health Alliance Medical Plans, said second-hand smoke is a health hazard and that he believes smoking should be banned in all public places.
He cited a recent study in a medical journal called Circulation, which deals with the heart, that found exposure to second-hand smoke in even limited amounts was a serious health hazard.
"The effects of even brief (minutes to hours) exposure to passive smoking are often nearly as large, 80 to 90 percent, as chronic active smoking," he said, quoting the study.
But Eric Meyer, owner of Pia's and Kam's taverns in Champaign, said the council shouldn't regulate smoking.
"This is a business decision," he said. "It's a choice of adults to make responsible decisions of where they elect to take their food and beverage dollars."