Monday, March 14, 2011

IL: Palos reacts to possible smoking ban changes


Smoke might once again be wafting through your favorite neighborhood bar if proposed legislation passes.

The Illinois General Assembly's decision to consider lifting the ban on smoking for select businesses is drawing both ire and blessing from certain Palos-area bar owners and public officials.

Under House Bill 1310, local liquor control commissions could issue smoking licenses to bars and clubs that make most of their revenue from liquor sales and can install a proper air filtration system.

House Bill 171 would allow ventilated smoking rooms in licensed gaming facilities, while House Bill 1965 pertains to qualifying riverboat casinos, specifically.

To qualify for a smoking license, businesses must first install a filtration system, inform employees of the change, be in compliance with its liquor license, and post signage for the public.

The last caveat doesn’t faze at least one local bar owner. If approved, Angelo Mandas, the owner of Game Time Sports Grill and Pub, has vowed to hang—not just any sign but—a “big sign” on his door welcoming smokers. He claims revenue has plummeted 75 percent since start of the ban, in 2008, and welcomes the lift even at the risk of alienating non-smokers.

“If someone doesn’t like it,” he said, “they can go to another place.”

But don’t count on Hackney’s to do the same.

“I am absolutely against lifting a smoking ban,” owner Michael Masterson said, “because I love the smell of my restaurant and bar now.”

Although his liquor sales dropped 15 percent after the ban, Masterson said he likes working in the lounge without worrying about second-hand smoke. His business could easily become a non-smoker refuge if other Palos-area bar owners go the way of Game Time.

Some opponents of the bills say the increase in state revenue through liquor sales wouldn't compensate for the increase in state health care costs. State Rep. Bill Cunningham (D-36) said last week he hadn't yet read through HB 1310, and couldn't speak on its specifics, but would be against a smoking "rollback" in principle.

"It's not only (about) costs, but just basic living conditions," he said.

Palos Hills mayor Gerald Bennett, also head of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said last week he’s fine with whatever the state decides so long as businesses are treated equitably.

“When (a law) puts someone at a disadvantage, that’s when the problems starting arising,” he said.

HB 1310 and HB 1965 were approved by an Executive Committee last week and sent to the Illinois House of Representatives. HB 171 remains at the committee level.

A similar bill aimed at allowing smoking in casinos was reportedly presented to the House last year but never came to a vote.

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