Illinois smoking ban sours campus bar culture
The State of Illinois’s choice in the dead of winter to ban public smoking has inspired grief, relief, and even a few cottage industries.
“Remember kids, smoking is not big or clever and it WILL kill you, but if you want to die you may as well die with warm hands,” reads an advertisement for Smoking Mittens, gloves with a heatproof hole designed to hold a cigarette, a product specifically created in response to the increase of smoking bans in public places worldwide.
On January 1, Illinois joined 21 other states in banning smoking in all public places, including restaurants, bars, and music venues. The Smoke-Free Illinois Act enacts fines of up to $250 for individuals and $2,500 for venues that violate the ban, which includes smoking up to 15 feet away from doors and windows of establishments.
The ban has more than one disgruntled smoker venting outside popular Hyde Park bars.
“I’ve been loving every minute of it,” said third-year Ashley Meyer wryly as she puffed on a cigarette outside Bar Louie. “You’re drinking your beer, and you have to leave it and go outside into this freezing blizzard.”
“I just don’t get this law,” she added. “I mean, people don’t go to bars for their health.”
Another frequent complaint among students has been the loss of a smoker culture that, until recently, cheerfully lived on in Chicago’s bars.
“It makes for a particular social bond, but now everyone’s having fun and you have to go outside in a self-imposed exile for 10 minutes. Sometimes you feel pathetic,” fourth-year John Elias said.
Elias added that the ban has led to several uncomfortable late-night situations outside Jimmy’s involving his charitable donations to the homeless.
“All the homeless guys come up, the ones who like to hang around there because when you’re drunk you give them money. So they’ve been on my case more than usual,” he said.
In addition to grumbling over the cold and inconvenience, several South Side smokers questioned the need for such a law in the first place.
Christopher, a second-year who declined to give his last name, is an occasional bartender at The Cove and a frequent customer of neighborhood bars.
“Before, there were plenty of bars that were non-smoking,” he said. “And that was a choice you made before you went out. Unfortunately now, [the state] has taken the choice away from us.”
Lawmakers in other states have said they passed these laws out of concern not only for the non-smoking patrons of bars and restaurants but for the waitstaff and other employees who were forced to inhale the smoke of others. The latter claim in particular is one with which Christopher takes issue.
“Most people who work here smoke,” he said. “When I did bartend, I smoked a fair amount while I was working. It’s something that most employees participate in.”
Moreover, many proprietors have claimed that the ban has hurt them financially. The Bar Louie in Hyde Park is one of the top five grossing locations of the franchise, said manager Alan Anderson. He added that the new act jeopardizes this position.
“The smoking ban has taken a serious toll on our business,” he said. He added that while attendance of non-smoking patrons has increased, “they don’t outweigh the smokers, not by a long shot.”
Anderson said that Bar Louie has been put in a tough spot on both a professional and personal level.
“The thing is, Bar Louie is still a neighborhood restaurant, we still invite kids and families to come in. We have to please everybody.”
The Cove has also seen a decrease in patronage as a result of the new act. Shawn Sleeper, a bouncer at The Cove, said the ban has resulted in a 25 percent decrease in sales at the bar, a number he attributes to patrons being less inclined to smoke out in the cold. But new problems may arise come summer.
“There’ll be more people out here, smoking, laughing, making noise and then the neighbors start complaining and that’s bad for business,” Sleeper said. He added that the Cove has already been hit with a number of fines for similar reasons in the past few years.
While employees and customers alike have expressed distaste for the new policy, some University students see merit in the law.
“I smoke pretty much more than anyone else I know, but I didn’t always, so I know that it can be unpleasant for others,” said Elias. “I mean, smoke is gross when it comes down to it, so I feel for the non-smokers.”
But fourth-year Josh Hemley sympathizes with both sides of the debate.
“It’s nice to be in a bar without smoke in your face,” he said. “But I smoke too, so it’s like your mother telling you to eat your vegetables: It’s good and it’s bad.”