No butts about it: Smokeless in Urbana

By Frank Radosevich II

What began in a grass roots movement has finally come to pass into law. On August 1, Urbana’s citywide smoking ordinance kicked into first gear forcing diners to stamp out their cigarettes, cigars and pipes. The ordinance, passed in Urbana on June 6, bans smoking in public places and places of employment, chiefly bars and restaurants.

The city officials present at a Tuesday morning press conference voiced their support in the ban and were confident of its effectiveness.

“I really want to say that this day is a great day for public health,” Vito Palazzolo said, executive director of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. “I think that is something that really needs to be emphasized here, that any negative that it may have as far as smokers is unfortunate, but I think that for people on a whole, it’s a real positive.”

Palazzolo also said the smoking ordinance was a positive point for visitors to Urbana and not just residents.

“Urbana is going to be the first one,” Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said. “Even though we were the last one to pass the ordinance, we are going to be ahead of Springfield, Bloomington-Normal and Champaign.”

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    According to the city, every public place and workplace must now have “No Smoking” signs posted in or at the entrance of the business. In addition, the ordinance requires businesses to remove ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia to discourage anyone from lighting up and to offer a means of disposing smoking materials at their entrances.

    Beginning Jan. 1, smoking will also be forbidden in any Urbana tavern or bar while Champaign’s version of the ordinance begins January 31. Workplaces are not covered in the Champaign ordinance.

    Both patrons and the business owners can be fined under the new smoking ordinance with fines starting at $135 and may increase for additional violations.

    “We have worked out a very good process for enforcement,” Prussing said. “We based our enforcement procedures on Madison, Wis. … and in their first year of operation they had 50 complaints, so we figured if Madison had 50 we’re going to have a lot less … There might be some problems but I don’t see why our city would be more difficult than any other city.”

    When asked if restaurants owners have voiced any misgivings of their own, Prussing said that most have been receptive to the ordinance.

    “I think most of the concern is expressed by bar owners,” she said. “I did not have a single restaurant contact me in opposition to this.”

    Dennis Reed, co-owner of Lil Porgy’s BBQ, 101 W. University Ave., Urbana and 1917 W. Springfield Ave., Champaign, said he supported the ban for restaurants, although not the ban for bars and taverns, since smoking in his restaurants was not a hot-button issue.

    “I don’t see it as any big deal,” Reed said. “I see very few smokers (in the restaurant), some light up after eating but like I say, to me it’s much ado about nothing.”

    Lil Porgy’s BBQ, which did offer smoking and non-smoking seating, had received no customer complaints as of Tuesday afternoon.

    “I think even most smokers don’t care to be dining with other smokers,” Reed concluded.

    Kirsty Price, a waitress at Jolly Roger, 118 W. Water St., Urbana, didn’t share Reed’s relaxed attitude.

    “I smoke so it’s not easy,” Price said. “I’m hoping (city officials) just do away with it after they make a few dollars. Maybe they just get rid of it and let us smoke again. Then again, maybe not.”

    Price said the restaurant had to tell several customers not to smoke but noted that most complaints were coming from employees.

    “The employees have been taking it worse than customers,” Price said.

    According to city officials, various city and county departments will work together to educate the public and enforce the ban. Existing departments that already carry out inspections on businesses, such as the Fire Department or the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, will be checking for compliance during their regularly scheduled visits but restaurant management will serve on the front lines, being expected to warn or expel smokers and report violations.

    The full ordinance will be enforced in three phases.

    The first phase, already underway, will cover all restaurants. In the days leading up to the ban, Urbana officials have furnished all 53 restaurants with temporary “No smoking” signs, copies of the ordinance, a list of do’s and don’t’s and a letter from the mayor emphasizing the city’s commitment to working with the owners.

    “We’ve now personally visited each of the restaurants (in Urbana) and provided them a packet of information on how to operate under this new legislation,” Urbana’s Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Walden said.

    The second phase, to begin shortly, will cover all places of employment. According to Tony Foster, division chief for fire prevention and education services, firefighters will enforce the ban while carrying out routine code inspections on local businesses. Those found in violation of the law will be give time to comply but multiple infractions will not be tolerated.

    Libby Tyler, Urbana’s community development director, said her department will also be assisting in enforcement.

    The third phase, to begin Jan. 1, will cover all bars and taverns and will be executed similarly to the first phase.

    Currently, there are several mechanisms in place to make a complaint.

    “The first one is to call one of three numbers of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department,” Walden said. “The Public Health District will have a database to keep track of those complaints. Also, we will provide a 24 (hour) desk at the city of Urbana … where a citizen may make, in person, a complaint.”

    A smoking complaint form could also be submit online from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department Web site.

    Walden also stressed that citizens or owners should not call 911 unless there is a threat of violence or the patron refuses to leave.

    If a patron refuses to comply or a business incurs multiple complaints, the city may issue a citation but officials hope this will be a rare occurrence.

    “We don’t expect to have many of those,” Walden said. “We hope that our efforts at education and positive discussions with our business owners will not yield many of these complaints that we’ll have to take to court. But in the event that we do, the city will be the agency that actually does that level of enforcement.”