TAYLORVILLE, Ill. -- Lighting up a cigarette in public has long been part of the social fabric in small towns like this one across America.
A burger and a puff at Bill's Toasty. A strike and a butt at the Olde Bowl. A pizza and a smoke at the American Tap.
So when the idea of a public smoking ban came before a city ordinance committee here last month, it was snuffed out by aldermen reluctant to hurt business and allow government to infringe on citizens' choice in this town of 12,000 people.
"In this country, you have the freedom to pick your own poison," said Alderman John Podeschi, a nonsmoker whose committee vote helped shelve the proposal. "This is what America is all about. Who are we to change that?"
As an Illinois law took effect last month allowing communities to decide their public smoking rules, governments in central and southern Illinois are showing little interest in smoking restrictions. Of about three dozen communities statewide banning smoking or considering restrictions, nearly all are in northern Illinois and mostly around Chicago, where a no-smoking law took hold last week.
Save for two of the biggest areas downstate - Springfield and Bloomington-Normal - anti-smoking legislation not only has little momentum, but it isn't even a consideration. Not one community on the Illinois side of metro St. Louis is exploring a smoke-free environment.
The resistance mirrors a trend in the Midwest and the South, where smoking rates are among the nation's highest and bans have taken hold in big cities and college towns but not in rural and small communities.
"The support is just not there in those places, and it's hard to get it going," said Scott Hays, a research scientist at the University of Illinois who has studied smoking bans nationwide.
Hays led a smoke-free drive in Champaign and Urbana that is struggling to gain momentum.
Rural America fiercely resists government interference, say advocates and opponents of smoke-free laws. Local legislators have known business owners for most of their lives and fear they will hurt the incomes of friends.
Many small communities also lack basic building codes, so why impose smoking rules when there are no other regulations, community lawmakers ask. And, for now, big budget anti-smoking campaigns are focusing on larger urban areas, where the impact is greatest, they say.
"You get a bigger influence that affects more people," Hays said, "so you achieve your goal of getting most of the people in a state smoke-free without having to go small town by small town."
Still, anti-smoking advocates predict the sweeping anti-smoking trend will soon reach outlying areas. The Illinois Legislature is considering giving counties the authority to enact smoking bans in unincorporated regions.
The state is spending $11 million annually on anti-tobacco efforts, including $5 million for programs for county health departments that include teaching communities how to ban smoking.
E.A. Torriero writes for the Chicago Tribune.