Illinois smoking ban still disputed, and sometimes ignored
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCHMore than a year after Illinois enacted its public smoking ban, the
controversial law and its enforcement are still the subjects of some dispute.
The aim of the legislation, to keep cigarette smoke out of public establishments, has been clear since it went into effect Jan. 1, 2008. But law enforcement, health departments and public officials have struggled with how to
use the ambiguously worded statute.
In some places, it has simply been ignored.
"A lot of bar owners and patrons were just out and out thwarting the law," said Mark Peysakhovich, senior director of advocacy for the Illinois chapter of the American Heart Association. Peysakhovich said the ban generally was accepted at Chicago-area bars and restaurants, but many businesses in the southern part of the state, where the law was less popular, ignored it.
The dissenters often went unpunished because local prosecutors refused to enforce a statute they said was unclear, he said.
"A lot of county health departments weren't enforcing it at all because they were told by their state's attorney that he wasn't going to prosecute any of the tickets that they wrote," he said, noting the statute did not specify
whether violators were committing a criminal offense or exactly how they should be punished.
Illinois lawmakers have taken steps toward eliminating the confusion in recent weeks, pushing forward legislation that allows health department officials and police to issue noncriminal citations to violators. The bill, which has been
passed in the Illinois House and Senate, would set the fine at $100 for a first offense, and repeat offenders would pay $250. The bill awaits the signature of the governor.
For now, though, some Illinois taverns continue to turn a blind eye to smoking.
At Mojac's, a bar in Belleville, a few patrons were smoking inside Saturday afternoon. A bartender referred comment to the owner, who could not be reached.
No one was smoking at Friday's South across town, but bartender Chris Lugge said customers sometimes light up despite the tavern's enforced no-smoking policy. Most smokers are aware of the law, he said, but they might forget if they frequent businesses that allow smoking anyway.
"Most people know you can't smoke," Lugge said.
John Welge, sitting at the bar at Friday's South, said he wasn't happy about the law, but it didn't keep him away from his favorite watering hole. It just forces him out into the cold every so often.
"I complain about it every day," he said.