“Long-awaited law” took effect with start of 2008

By Jonathan Jacobson

A stiff ban on smoking in Illinois went into effect Jan. 1.

The law, however, does not come as a surprise for many Illinois residents. It is part of a nationwide and even worldwide movement to curb smoking in public places, including France, which also put a smoking ban in place on New Year’s Day.

The Illinois ban, which covers virtually all public indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars, casinos and bowling alleys, makes Illinois the 22nd state to pass a blanket-style regulation on indoor smoking.

“We can all collectively take a fresh breath of air as this long-awaited law finally takes hold,” said Gov. Blagojevich in a statement that claims 16,000 people die of smoking-related illnesses each year.

Illinois’ nearly 3 million smokers, should they want to smoke indoors, will be relegated to their homes, some hotel rooms and retail tobacco stores, the only places the ban exempts.

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All businesses not exempted are being called on to remove ashtrays and put up “no smoking” signs. Fines of $250 can be imposed on individual smokers and even higher fines can be imposed on businesses not in compliance with the new rules.

Although some municipalities had adopted similar regulations over the last few years, such as Chicago, Springfield, Champaign and Urbana, many were concerned the ban would upset local businesses.

“People over the long run are going to go out less often and not stay as long,” said Garnet Dawn Scheuer, president of Illinois Smokers Rights, which, she admits, is something of an oxymoron now. “When the Illinois Assembly passed this law, they took a lot of law-abiding citizens and turned them into potential criminals.”

Scheuer, who claimed her organization is expanding even now, said that Illinois Smokers Rights is planning to continue “civil disobedience” and is “probably going to go into lawsuits” with the state.

“You cannot uninvent cigarettes,” she said.

But one man’s nightmare is another man’s dream.

Nonsmokers and restaurant and bar workers in Illinois stand to gain the most from a smoke-free environment.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity,” said Department of Health spokeswoman Kimberly Parker. “The fact that Illinois has gone smoke free, we think it’s a wonderful thing.”

At least one business in downtown Chicago is already profiting from the change in smoking regulations.

Mario’s Taco House, in Chicago, has decided to drop both its previous name and the tacos on its menu.

Although Mario’s Taco House had been selling cigars for a long time, the new store, called Caganchos, will sell specialty cigars and tobacco, providing an oasis for smokers with dwindling options.

Illinois’ nine casinos, all of which have been lobbying for an exemption, expect to be particularly hard hit by this ban.

Tom Swoik, the executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, had previously said that casino revenues may go down by as much as 20 percent.

“I feel as if we’ve been occupied by our own government,” Scheuer said.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2008, business owners must:

Not permit smoking at their business, or within 15 feet of entrances, exits, windows that open and ventilation intakes.

Post “No Smoking” signs at each entrance to the place of employment or public place where smoking is prohibited. “No Smoking” signs must comply with the specification in the Smoke-free Illinois Act.

Remove ashtrays from areas where smoking is prohibited.

Source: smoke-free.illinois.gov