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Chicago Study Fuels Call for Ban on Smoking

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Mar. 10--Citing record-high asthma rates in the city's minority neighborhoods, the president of the City Council's black caucus Tuesday called on Chicagoans to lobby Mayor Richard Daley for a smoking ban in public places.

Legislation sponsored by Ald. Ed Smith (28th) has languished for two years, even as New York, Boston and Skokie have enacted anti-smoking laws.

"We really need to do something about that," Smith said at a joint meeting of the council's Committees on Health and Human Relations. "If the mayor wants it done, it would be done immediately."

Smith later said in an interview that he would not push for a quick vote.

A spokeswoman for Daley declined to comment Tuesday. The mayor has been reluctant to support far-reaching anti-smoking measures. But he said last summer that he was open to a proposal that would go beyond the current requirement of restaurants to set aside a certain percentage of tables in designated no-smoking areas.

Smith made his comments as the aldermanic panels met at a social-service agency in Humboldt Park to discuss a landmark public-health study by Sinai Health Systems.

The study, released in January, found that 34 percent of Puerto Rican children 12 and under in some neighborhoods have asthma. That is the highest percentage ever documented in the nation, said Steve Whitman, director of the survey, which included 1,700 interviews in six neighborhoods.

The survey also found that smoking is most common in minority communities. Men in the Humboldt Park, West Town, North Lawndale and Roseland neighborhoods were almost twice as likely to light up as the average Chicagoan. Some parts of the city posted smoking rates higher than the national average has been in 40 years, Whitman said.

Smith and Ald. Edward Burke (14th) floated versions of an anti-smoking ordinance in 2002, but neither won approval. Smith's proposal called for banning smoking in all public places except stand-alone bars. Burke, a longtime advocate of smoking restrictions, would have extended the ban to all bars.

Even though smoking is not allowed at City Hall, the smell of cigarette smoke often hangs in the air of the men's bathroom near the City Council chambers. And a vocal opponent of an anti-smoking ordinance, Ald. William Beavers (7th), boasts of openly flouting City Hall restrictions, according to his biography on the city's Internet site.

"As an avid smoker, [Beavers] is part of the reason City Hall--despite the political correctness of banning cigarettes from most of the building--is still synonymous for its smoke-filled rooms," his biography reads.


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