Smoking Ban 10 Years Later: More Acceptance, But Businesses Still Object | WGLT

Smoking Ban 10 Years Later: More Acceptance, But Businesses Still Object

Jul 27, 2018

It's been 10 years since Illinois went smoke-free in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants.

GLT looks back at the arguments that were made for and against the indoor smoking ban to see if new data and the passage of time have changed anyone's perspective on what was a hotly debated issue.

Bloomington and Normal actually went smoke-free a year before the rest of the state.

McLean County also passed its own smoking ban, but it exempted home-based businesses and six liquor establishments in unincorporated areas of the county. Those exemptions were later wiped out by the statewide ban.

Talk of a ban sparked heated debate before its inception. Many bar and restaurant owners feared it would put a dent in their business at a time when profit margins are already thin.

“I saw a 15 to 20 percent decrease in business and it’s never gotten any better,” said Tyler Holloway, who owns Fat Jacks bar in downtown Bloomington and Maggie Miley's restaurant in Uptown Normal.

He said it was especially tough on the bar because he sold cigars at Fat Jacks. That, he said, was about a $50,000-per-year hit in sales.

Downtown Bloomington bar owners Jan Lancaster and Tyler Holloway say Illinois' smoking ban has hurt their business roughly 20 percent.
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT

“I’ve tried to replace my cigar sales because we did quite a large amount of cigar sales for that product out of here up until then and it went to zero basically,” Holloway said.

Holloway noted many who liked to light up at his bar simply stopped coming.

“There was a certain percentage of people who stopped coming out as much,” Holloway said. “I know one couple that actually built a bar in their basement and just invited their smoking friends over to their house every Friday happy hour instead of coming here.”

Holloway added customers who are smoking outside are likely buying less alcohol, which also eats into sales.

Fat Jacks started serving food after the smoking ban was enacted, and many other bars recouped some of their lost sales after the state legalized video gambling, though Holloway said that hasn't completely erased that shortfall.

Jan Lancaster owns the Bistro, a downtown Bloomington bar, and co-owned Lancaster’s, a fine dining restaurant which closed in 2014.

“(Bar owners) were told in endless meetings with different parties that the non-smoking community that was always complaining about how it was so smoky in the bars, that they would come out and now support our businesses once the ban was in effect,” Lancaster said. “That did not happen.”

Lancaster's biggest objection, she said, was that bar and restaurant owners had no say in the matter. She said several had proposed a licensing fee they'd be willing to pay to have a smoking section in their establishments. That idea fell on deaf ears.

“We are small, independent bar owners, business owners. And I really thought it should have been a decision that each of us made on our own,” Lancaster said. 

Health Advocates

While many business owners saw the indoor smoking ban as a government intrusion, health advocates praised the ban.

"Our children are growing up expecting smoke-free, indoor areas,” said Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Illinois and one of the major advocates for the statewide ban when it was passed in 2007.

"I actually enjoy the fact that I don't go home at night after work smelling like an ashtray."

She said the health of smokers and non-smokers alike should trump the wishes of any business owner.

“Restaurants and bars close all the time and for many reasons,” Drea said. “People of Illinois have adjusted. They’ve come to expect indoor facilities to be smoke-free.”

The American Lung Association polled Illinois residents before the smoking ban went into effect and on the 10-year anniversary of the ban. A decade ago, Illinoisans were evenly split on the issue. A decade later, 87 percent of those polled said they support the ban.

“I think that says it all right there,” Drea declared. “You can’t even get nine out of 10 people to agree that the sky is blue, let alone support for a law like this.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports in the 10 years since the smoking ban passed, hospitalizations for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart attacks—all conditions aggravated by secondhand smoke—have fallen 20 percent.

In McLean County smoking rates have dropped. Just prior to the ban, close to 21 percent of adults smoked. The latest figures from 2013, show it dropped to below 12 percent, nearly cut in half.

While there's no proof that these bans or other restrictions have caused more people to kick the habit, Drea suggested it all plays a part.

“All these things work hand-in-hand. The increase in the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products also work to decrease those smoking prevalence rates,” Drea said.

Safety

Bar owners Holloway and Lancaster, both non-smokers themselves, said the issue goes beyond health.

Lancaster said the indoor ban forces smokers outside on sidewalks that are already crowded on weekends when college students are in town. She said a combination of overly congested walkways with pedestrians, many of whom have been drinking, has often become a recipe for trouble.

“You would have two people go out and smoke and all of the sudden, all of their friends have to go out and stand there with them too,” Lancaster said. “That created some problems in the streets with late-night problems as far as vandalism, people making comments, etc.”

The bar owners say they don't have the time or the staffing to monitor foot traffic outside their businesses. This raises the question: Who is enforcing this smoking ban?

Enforcement

Police are typically on the front lines in the war on smoking, but Bloomington, Normal and McLean County sheriff's police all said they get few if any complaints.

"I think when the law was initially passed, we kind of took the stance we weren’t going to become the smoking police,” Sheriff Jon Sandage said. “However, if we do run across a violation we will report it.”

Sandage added his officers aren't able to set aside time to specifically look for smoking scofflaws, but they do occasionally conduct sting operations looking for underage drinkers.

“What we look for when we do not only bar checks but our liquor inspections we do through the Illinois Liquor Commission, we look for (smoking) violations and have not found any,” Sandage said.

Police believe the various public education campaigns about where you can and can't smoke have taken hold.

Smoking ban enforcement responsibility actually lies with the McLean County Health Department, through a federal grant provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Katie McHugh, the department’s health promotion program, said enforcement is typically based on complaints. Those can be filed on the health department's website, but she said the county's sanitation crews will sometimes find suspected violators on their own.

“We work with our environmental health (crews), the sanitarians, to do that,” McHugh said. “They are already going around doing routine inspections and it’s part of that checklist that they have to go through to check for ashtrays. That’s usually the giveaway.”

McLean County received just eight smoking complaints in the 12-month period that ended in June.

According to the state law, fines start at $250, but McHugh noted fines are rare.

“They get a letter and that usually takes care of it,” McHugh said. “People don’t want to not be in compliance, but if need be, we can go further on. There are fines and citations that get written."

Second-time offenders are fined $500. A third offense in the same year warrants a $2,500 fine.

The county has levied 16 fines since the ban's inception, but none since 2015. Only two were ever fined the maximum 2,500, according the data from the health department.   

McHugh said the Health Department focuses more of its attention and resources on prevention. It offers "No Smoking" and "No-eCig" window signs for businesses.

McHugh supports the ban herself and said she notices the difference when she leaves Illinois.

“It certainly is a shock to me whenever I go to Indianapolis to go to concerts or I go to Missouri and people can smoke in restaurants,” McHugh said. “I’m always thankful that in Illinois that’s not something that we have to deal with, and I think most other people probably feel the same way.”

Vaping

The indoor smoking ban doesn't include e-cigarettes, which health advocates consider to be far more addictive and are heavily marketed to younger smokers. McHugh suspects vaping will soon be regulated the same way.

“The (Food and Drug Administration) is starting to regulate (e-cigarettes) and things like that. It’s just not included yet,” McHugh said. “There are all sorts of policies that are starting to add language about e-cigarettes too.”

Bloomington banned the use of e-cigarettes in all city-owned buildings in 2016, but vaping is otherwise allowed in other public buildings.

While bar owners like Tyler Holloway said they don't like how the smoking ban has hurt their business, they do see some benefit.

“I actually enjoy the fact that I don’t have someone sitting next to me smoking at the bar and I don’t go home at night after work smelling like an ashtray,” Holloway said. “So that is nice.”

Illinois is now one of 25 states to have a public smoking ban.

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