Worried about smoking ban

Saturday, July 28, 2007
While working at Nonny's in Cairo, Ill., Darlene Beasley smoked a cigarette at the counter Friday while her daughter, Jennifer Beasley, lit one. The two are opposed to the statewide smoking ban that will take effect in January, stating that it will be bad for business. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- Stepping into the Kozy Korner Cafe, it is clear that the new state law banning smoking in all public places as of Jan. 1 won't be popular. At every table, diners either have a pack of cigarettes waiting for when they finish their meal or, where the plates have been cleared away, people are puffing.

Bill Tatum smoked a hand-rolled cigarette Friday at the Kozy Korner Cafe in Olive Branch, Ill. Tatum is opposed to the smoking ban and says he won't vote for Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the future.

And the waitresses, who are sharing a table, cigarettes are burning while they wait for orders and more customers.

"From a business standpoint, it is murder," said Martina Kenerley, proprietor of the Kozy Korner. "It will kill a lot of small businesses like mine."

Kenerley estimates that 85 percent of her customers smoke. And when they smoke, they linger, making additional purchases that keep the diner in business. "If they can't smoke, they will be in more of a rush to get out," she said.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the smoking ban into law Monday joined by legislative sponsors and representatives of the major antismoking groups such as the American Heart Association, the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco and the American Lung Association. The statewide ban replaces a patchwork of local laws and the state's previous smoking restrictions.

In a news release promoting the law, Blagojevich cited a report from the U.S. surgeon general, issued in June 2006, that concluded there is no safe level of second-hand smoke. An eight-hour shift in a smoky environment is like smoking 16 cigarettes, Blagojevich said, and second-hand smoke is preventable cause of disease and health.

But for Bill Tatum, who rolled a cigarette from a pouch of tobacco at Kozy Korner, the ban is an intrusion, forcing him to choose between a restaurant he enjoys and a place to relax and smoke after eating. The ban, he said, means he'll eat many more meals at home.

"I really don't know why they can legislate to Martina how to run her business," he said. "There are nine people in here. Seven are smoking."

Along with the ban, Illinois lawmakers are considering adding 75 cents a pack to the tax on cigarettes. That would raise the total state levy to $1.73 per pack. And at Kozy Korner, the new tax is even less popular than the ban.

"Why tax 27 percent of the people to pay for health care for 100 percent of the elderly?" Tatum said. Blagojevich, who won his second term last year, won't get his vote again, said Tatum, who called himself a "hard-core Democrat."

The new law directs the Illinois Department of Public Health, local health departments and local police agencies to enforce the ban. And it includes fines heavy enough to discourage disobedience. Any person smoking in a prohibited location can be fined from $100 to $250. A business allowing violations can be fined at least $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation within a year and $2,500 for each additional violation within a year of the first offense.

There are some exceptions, including private residences and home offices, retail tobacco stores in operation prior to Jan. 1, private and semiprivate rooms in nursing homes and hotel rooms designated for smoking. In addition, restaurants or bars with outdoor seating may allow smoking in that location as long as it is at least 15 feet from the entrance.

Working on details

The exact mechanisms of enforcement are still being worked on, said Kimberly Parker, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. "We are still working that out on enforcement and regulation," she said. "What it comes down to is that we are pleased the governor has signed this into law and we are working to make sure people understand and obey it."

Bill Zellmer of Cape Girardeau, owner of the Cape Girardeau Buffalo Wild Wings as well as a location in Carbondale, Ill., said he's not too concerned about a loss of business as long as the ban doesn't favor one kind of eating and drinking establishment over others. Some local laws, he noted, have bans that apply to restaurants where a large share of the revenue is from food while allowing smoking where drinks are the main source of income.

The ban will work "as long as it is across the board the same with no unfair advantage to anyone else," he said. "I am not too worried about it."

The 15-feet rule, however, will make it hard to accommodate any smokers on the patio at the Carbondale location, Zellmer said.

At Nonny's in Cairo, Ill., every table has an ashtray. And in a conversation after the lunch crowd had cleared out, cook Darlene Beasley, daughter Jennifer Beasley, a waitress, and Beth Parsons, also a waitress, lit up cigarettes and denounced the new law.

"I take care of a group of four or five people who are here every morning," Parsons said. "And before they leave, the ashtray is full."

'That is our decision'

Jennifer Beasley said Nonny's customers are mostly regulars who know what to expect when they walk in the door. And as for her own smoking, she said she understands the dangers. "We all know the things that smoking can do to you," she said. "But that is our decision."

But across the room, at the only table where the ashtrays have been removed, a group of four tourists from Wisconsin said they live in a state with a smoking ban and they're glad it's in effect.

Sam Hokin, who along with his family was driving from Memphis, Tenn., to Madison, Wis., said they expect to encounter restaurants with smoking while on the road. But the smoke is a nuisance, he said, and he's happy Illinois joined the 18 other states with similar bans.

One of the biggest differences under a ban, Hokin said, is the way he feels after an evening in a bar or tavern listening to live music. "By midnight, my eyes would be sore and I would be tired," he said. "That is totally gone now."

Natalia Hokin said weaker laws that segregate smokers don't work unless there is a real barrier to prevent the smoke from drifting where it is unwanted.

"Smoking areas are fine if it is a real smoking area," she said. "But in bars, it doesn't work."


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