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April 20, 2006
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Forum faults state for lax tobacco prevention

BY MATT KIEFER
STAFF WRITER

A demand for state legislators to increase funding for tobacco prevention programs was issued at a community health forum at Elk Grove Village Hall Tuesday morning.

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson and former tobacco industry figure Patrick Reynolds accused Illinois state government of squandering tobacco tax revenues that they say should be spent on smoking prevention programs.

"The State of Illinois is turning its back on its responsibility," Johnson said, explaining that the state takes in about $1 billion annually in cigarette tax revenues. "It used to spend $50 million a year (on prevention programs). Last year, it was $11 million. This year, it's even less."

About 40 people attended the forum, which was sponsored by Alexian Brothers Hospital Network.

Dr. Charles Baum, vice president of health affairs for Alexian Brothers, said that a recent hospital survey indicates that 17 percent of residents in the northwest suburbs are smokers.

In order to reduce that trend in the future, Baum said that public policies are needed to discourage smoking -- namely taxes, bans and preventive programs.

Starting June 1, businesses in Elk Grove Village that sell cigarettes will have to pay fees of either $1,000 or $5,000 per year, depending on the size of the operation. That money will be used to fund smoking prevention programs locally.

"You are going to pay to help put yourself out of business," Johnson stated.

The Elk Grove Village Board also passed an indoor smoking ban that will take effect Jan. 1.

Reynolds, an vocal opponent of the tobacco industry, said that Elk Grove Village's stand on tobacco use serves as a model for Illinois, where the state spends around 1 percent of tobacco tax revenues on prevention programs.

"We've got to do better in Illinois for our health and for the health of our future, our kids," he said, urging state legislators to "do the right thing."

Reynolds' grandfather, R.J. Reynolds, founded the tobacco company that now owns Camel and Winston. He walked out on the industry, however, because his father died from emphysema caused by smoking, he said.

No one attending the morning forum spoke in opposition to Elk Grove Village's smoking policies.

Johnson said he plans to meet with state legislators serving Elk Grove Village to explain the community's new policies and to urge them to set aside more money for prevention programs.

In the mean time, Johnson said the village's Board of Health will soon propose guidelines for the anti-smoking programs that will be funded by tobacco tax revenues.


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