Illinois smoking ban, two years later: ‘We saw a tremendous downturn in business’

It’s been two years since the Smoke Free Illinois Act went into effect, but only in the last few months has anyone in the metro-east been cited for breaking the law.

John McGuire, assistant state’s attorney in Madison County, said the original law had what lawyers thought were technical defects.

“When the legislature passed amendments (last summer) to fix those defects we were ready to implement it,” he said.

The Madison County Health Department sent out letters saying they were serious this time, he said.

“They were able to issue citations a few months ago,” he said.

At the table in the foreground, L to R: Carl Sudja from Fairview Heights, Dave Miner from Fairview Heights, and Eric Tinsley from Belleville enjoy a smoke in the heated add-on smoking area at Schatze's Bar in Belleville. In the table in the background, Greg Long (left) from Mascoutah and Jerry Ripley from Freeburg light up as well. Schatze's added on the heated area complete with a flat-screen television for their patrons after the statewide smoking laws were enacted by then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The area gives smoking patrons a place to smoke and stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer and is adjacent to the bar area of the building, in the front (Sherman Avenue side) of the structure. - Tim Vizer/BND

At the table in the foreground, L to R: Carl Sudja from Fairview Heights, Dave Miner from Fairview Heights, and Eric Tinsley from Belleville enjoy a smoke in the heated add-on smoking area at Schatze's Bar in Belleville. In the table in the background, Greg Long (left) from Mascoutah and Jerry Ripley from Freeburg light up as well. Schatze's added on the heated area complete with a flat-screen television for their patrons after the statewide smoking laws were enacted by then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The area gives smoking patrons a place to smoke and stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer and is adjacent to the bar area of the building, in the front (Sherman Avenue side) of the structure. - Tim Vizer/BND

The law specifies that smokers must remain at least 15 feet from a door or entrance or exit and not near ventilation intakes at public places, buildings, restaurants, bars and taverns.

Sharon Valentine, environmental health manager for the St. Clair County Health Department, said the department had issued five citations so far.

In 2008 there St. Clair County Health Department had 119 complaints lodged. In 2009 there have been 117. In 2008 the department could just write letters and remind restaurants or bars of the law.

But a few months ago the department received citation books and were able to start writing citations. But it isn’t always easy to catch anyone.

“You have to actually witness smoking to write a citation,” Valentine said.

The numbers probably are low because the county health department is just one of many agencies that can write citations. Local police departments and county police departments also are eligible as is the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Amy Yeager, health promotion manager of the Madison County Health Department, said she could find six active citations the department had written. The person in charge of complaints was unavailable so Yeager couldn’t provide complaint information.

The Illinois Department of Health recorded 5,500 complaints in 2008 but only 2,700 in 2009 on their complaint lines, said Kelly Jakubek, a spokeswoman for the department. Those numbers also don’t include numbers from other enforcing agencies.

Meanwhile bar owners and patrons who smoke still are not thrilled with the law.

Barry Gregory, owner of Crehan’s Irish Pub at 5500 N. Belt West in Belleville, said it has hurt their business.

“All the people who said they would come in when they stopped smoking didn’t,” he said. “We saw a tremendous downturn in business.

“But it was the direct opposite of what I anticipated,” he said. “I estimated we would lose a lot of business on our music nights and on weekends. But the biggest effect was on lunch. We’ve lost business people who would come in, eat, relax and smoke a cigarette at cheap prices.”

The pub has an outside porch which isn’t covered or heated but he has plans to convert it, possibly by this spring.

He is not a smoker himself and said the ban saves on cleaning but also causes a lot of problems for his employees who need to smoke. He said he hasn’t had any smoking problems and installed security cameras for proof.

Sue Johnson, owner of Sue’s Corner at 4222 Nameoki Road in Granite City, said the law isn’t fair to establishments like hers that don’t serve food.

“People go to smoke outdoors,” she said. “But it should be up to owners as long as they don’t serve food.”

She said people should have a choice whether to smoke or not in her bar and those who don’t like smoke would have the choice to come in or not.

Dave Miner of Fairview Heights is a regular customer who comes to Schatze’s because the bar goes out of its way to provide for smokers, he said.

“They have a nice facility there,” he said. “There are heaters and a television. They do it the right way. We feel like we’re not one of the persecuted.”

source: www.bnd.com

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