Editorial: Spurn the no-smoking law? That’s no answer

Waukegan 4th Ward Ald. Harold Beadling does not like the state’s Smoke-Free Illinois Act.

His solution? Just ignore the law. Pretend it doesn’t exist, and it just goes away.

Although his objection was rebutted 5-to-4 in a City Council vote last week to authorize police to ticket violators, consider the larger issue: It’s the law of the entire State of Illinois.

Unfortunately, Illinois public officials have a sad, lengthy history of ignoring the law. A taxpayer watchdog investigation showed that more than 80 percent of agency heads in Illinois blatantly disregard anti-corruption laws.

When government disregards the law, it breeds contempt among the citizens, too. Who abides by law when those who make the laws smirk at the rules?

The smoke-free act was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by the governor.

It establishes a state norm for when and how residents can smoke in public. It reflects a public desire to escape second-hand smoke.

But Beadling’s view is that Waukegan can and should ignore state law if the City Council doesn’t like the law. He favors issuing tickets for loud music and missing car mufflers because those are “quality of life issues” but smoking within 15 feet of a building’s entrance is not.

Beadling’s proclamation of pending doom for the city’s downtown if smokers can’t stand at the door seems similarly apoplectic.

As for public health, a 2006 report by the U.S. Surgeon General estimated second-hand smoke kills at least 65,000 people a year in the United States who do not smoke, including 2,900 in Illinois. It makes everyone sicker.

When the state acted to preserve the health of its citizens in public places that was the reason. Just common sense.

But city government need not apply a surgical scalpel to state law. Municipalities can push to refine the law, or lobby to expunge the law. But as long as the law is not morally corrupt, repugnant or destructive, they should honor it just like the rest of us. They take an oath to do that.

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