Illinois smoking ban 'going to hurt,' business owners say

Thursday, January 3, 2008
The Rose Garden restaurant in East Cape Girardeau, Ill., increased its no-smoking tables to 100 percent with the new Illinois smoking law taking effect. A sign remained from the former nonsmoking section. (Fred Lynch)

EAST CAPE GIRARDEAU, Ill. -- On New Year's Eve, more than 200 customers filled The Pony strip club. That number dwindled to just one on New Year's Day. General manager Michael Cox saw the same thing happen at other clubs in Rhode Island, Louisville and New York when smoking bans went into effect.

"It helps me slow down smoking," said Cox, a pack of cigarettes sitting on the desk in front of him, "but it's going to hurt. I don't see any way but it's going to hurt."

On Tuesday, Illinois joined all of France and eight states in Germany in going smoke-free. Smoking is banned inside and within 15 feet of doors, windows and intake ventilation systems of almost all public places in Illinois.

At the nearby Rose Garden restaurant, head waitress Judy Zeschke said coffee drinkers usually show up when the restaurant opens at 6 a.m. Wednesday's first customers arrived at 8:15. Wednesday afternoon Zeschke estimated the waitresses' tips so far were at about half normal.

"It's really hurt us," she said.

Illinois is the 22nd state in the U.S. to ban public smoking. Missouri limits smoking in public places to designated areas amounting to no more than 30 percent of the entire space.

Illinois' new law requires establishments to post "no smoking" signs and to remove all ashtrays. The exceptions to the Illinois smoking ban include tobacco stores, nursing homes or long-term care facilities and up to 25 percent of hotel rooms.

Private clubs are not exempt.

Some people are happy about the new law. Rose Garden customers Tamela and Bruce Hanebrink and their children Lacey and Kyle Randolph came from Cape Girardeau for lunch Wednesday. "I would much rather go to a restaurant that's smoke-free," Tamela said. At the same table, Scott Thorne of Carbondale, Ill., said he decides where to eat based on the food, not the air. "But it is going to smell better," he said.

All are nonsmokers.

Zeschke, also a nonsmoker, said she welcomed the smoking ban but not if it hurts business on the east side of the Mississippi River. Some of her customers who smoke told her they would not be back and would drive across the bridge to Cape Girardeau to light up. Zeschke said the restaurant originally was going to be smoke-free but the owners saw they would lose business.

Research shows that establishments that become smoke-free do lose some business in the first few months, said Trisha Moering, community health education director for the Southern Seven Health Department in Ullin, Ill. "But after a few months those smokers will come back or people who don't smoke will take their place," Moering said.

The Southern Seven Health Department, which serves Illinois' seven southernmost counties, is in charge of enforcing the new law. Moering said no complaints had been made by midafternoon Wednesday, but the center had received a dozen calls from establishments wanting information about compliance.

"At this point we're not needing or wanting to pressure people," Moering said. But that time will come for those who don't abide by the law.

A hot line has been set up for complaints. The number is 866-973-4646 (TTY 800-547-0466, hearing impaired use only). Complaints also can be made at the Web site www.smoke-free.illinois.gov.

The center will contact the establishment when a complaint is received. If it fails to correct the violation, fines could be imposed. Individuals who smoke in violation of the law would be fined $100 for a first violation and not less than $250 for additional violations. An establishment would be fined $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second within a year and $2,500 for each additional violation within a year.

Spot checks

The health department staff will spot-check establishments that have received complaints. It's just going to take awhile for people to become accustomed to most places being smoke-free, Moering said.

"In the next months and years this is going to be the norm."

Law enforcement will become involved only if a summons needed to be issued or a subpoena needed to be served in to enforce the law, Union County Sheriff David Livesay said. Deputies also could be called on to remove a patron who insists on smoking. Livesay said he would expect a deputy who witnessed a violation of the law to report it to the hot line.

But, he said, "the places I've been in Union County so far are honoring the smoke-free law."

At the Anna-Jonesboro VFW Post, bartender Betty George said all the smokers are dutifully marching outside but that she's heard lots of grumbling. "This is their post. Those guys went over and fought their war and don't like being told where to smoke," she said.

Some establishments in smoke-free locales have accommodated smokers by opening outdoor patios. Rose Garden owners Musa and Al Rahmni have placed a table with an ashtray 15 feet outside the building's back door, but with the high temperature Wednesday in the 20s the table had no takers.

At RC Auto Sales in East Cape Girardeau, owner Rick Casper and his son, Jason, both smoke. They have been walking out the back door to do so but don't like it. "It's Big Brother telling you what to do," Rick said.

He thinks allowing each individual establishment to set its own smoking guidelines makes more sense.

Samantha Brown, a cook at the Kozy Korner Cafe in Olive Branch for the past five years, said the early morning coffee drinkers who usually come in didn't Wednesday.

The smoking ban also affects the restaurant's staff, all of whom smoke. They aren't allowed smoking breaks, Brown said. "We just have to deal with it."

sblackwell@semissourian.com

Smoking is permitted at this table outside the rear of The Rose Garden restaurant in East Cape Girardeau, Ill.

335-6611, extension 137

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