Smoke clears as controversy over statewide ban subsides
By Jon Krenek and Hayley Graham
Most of the controversy surrounding a statewide smoking ban has blown over since Illinois became smoke-free one year ago.
Some restaurant and tavern owners still complain about lost business, but local law and health officials say they have fielded few complaints about smoking as most establishments have complied. An amended law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn to strengthen enforcement will likely have little impact.
"You still aren't allowed to smoke in public places," said Bonnie Schaafsma, administrator of the Kankakee County Health Department. She said the only change is that health and law enforcement officials will now be able to write citations for violations -- which have been few and far between locally.
Previously, the health department fielded about two violations countywide each month, and wrote warning letters, Schaafsma said. The letters will now become tickets with fines attached. The Illinois Department of Public Health will handle the tickets and provide violators for a means of appeal.
The owners of On The Rox, 670 W. Station St., Kankakee; and Conrad's Saloon, 106 E. Main St., Ashkum, have different views on how much the ban has affected business. But neither has ever been inspected or cited for a violation of the ban.
Some tavern owners say the smoking ban plus the tough economy is hurting business, and has tempted some to ignore the ban. Business has declined substantially at Conrad's Saloon, owner Steve Conrad said.
"The economy's hurting and then throw (the smoking ban) on top of it, and it's a double whammy," he said.
Conrad said most of his customers, even nonsmokers, oppose the ban. So do many members of the Kankakee Valley Beverage Association, an organization he previously served as president -- many of whom believe the decision should be left to business owners, Conrad said.
But the feeling is not unanimous. Others believe business has remained strong regardless of the ban.
On the Rox, at 670 W. Station St. in Kankakee, opened up January of last year when the smoking ban was already in place. Owner Jeff Ader said it has never caused any problems.
"I personally like it," Ader said. "Business is good, and nobody complains about it."
To accommodate the ban, smokers at On the Rox can step outside on a deck behind the business, standing the required 15 feet away from the door. Ader said he has never had any issues with patrons trying to smoke inside the bar, but he has seen it happen at other taverns in the area.
He doesn't believe tavern owners who might allow smoking in their establishments are drawing any of his customers away.
"I think everybody has their own clientele, whether they smoke or not," he said.
Bourbonnais Police Chief Joseph Beard said most businesses have been compliant with the law. But he said police will write citations if they encounter any problems. And regardless of whether the citation comes in the form of a warning letter or ticket, the biggest stick in enforcement remains an establishment's liquor license.
Beard said chronic violators can still lose their license, which is often paramount to a business.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "Your license can still be taken away."