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Up in smoke

Published: Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 12:01 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 12:13 p.m. CDT

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Fresh air fans are celebrating the five-year anniversary of the Smoke-free Illinois Act, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2008. The law was designed to make it easier to breathe indoors by making all workplaces smoke-free, including warehouses, factories, cabs, restaurants, private clubs, bars and casinos.

“Breathing in secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer and heart disease in adults who don’t smoke. In children, secondhand smoke can increase the risk of serious respiratory problems, such as more frequent and sever asthma attacks, as well as respiratory tract infections,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. “Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of early death in the Untied States, but thanks to the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, we can collectively take a breath of fresh air in Illinois knowing that more people than ever are enjoying smoke-free environments.”

Five years after the law took effect, smokers seem resigned to taking their cigarettes outdoors, and area bar owners express few complaints.

On Friday, Shawn Nyman, owner of the Alexander Park Tavern in Princeton, said he has no problem with patrons wanting to smoke in the bar.

In Ohio, Terry Piper, owner of Pipe’s Pub, agreed.

“Nobody smokes in here,” she said.

Piper said smokers go outside to smoke, and they have a little enclosed shed for the smokers to use when the weather is bad.

Princeton Police Chief Tom Root said the ban has worked well, and he receives very few complaints.

“It’s been a good five years, and a healthier five years,” he said.

The first year after the ban took place was a little rocky.

Duane Alexander of Burbank was arrested Feb. 7, 2008, at the Family Tavern in Spring Valley for allegedly lighting up. He was ticketed for breaking the law, but in March, Bureau County State’s Attorney Pat Herrmann dropped the charges against the bartender in the incident, saying the law did not state the employee or business owner is liable if a patron begins to smoke.

On Sept. 30, 2008, Bureau County Associate Circuit Judge C.J. Hollerich granted the defense’s motion to dismiss, ruling that circuit courts had no jurisdiction to handle violations of the smoking ban act.

“It does appear to the court, based on the filings here, that the Legislature intended for the assessment of the fines to be imposed by an administrative agency,” Hollerich said.

On Friday, Herrmann said the court’s ruling was final as the county never filed an appeal. Instead the law is civilly enforced by the Bureau/Putnam County Health Department.

Joy Jarczewski, health education coordinator for the department, said that enforcement isn’t a “big deal” in the area.

Signs are posted at Illinois establishments urging any patron or worker with a complaint to call 866-973-4646 or visit www.smoke-free.illinois.gov/. Those complaints are referred to the local health department. Jarczewski said the Bureau/Putnam County Health Department received only two complaints last year, down from eight the previous year and 16 the year before that.

“About 99 percent of all restaurants are smoke-free,” she said. “But, some of the bars are a little iffy.”

Jarczewski said any complaints are dealt with through their environmental health department. Inspectors are on the alert for missing signage or the presence of ash trays, and they report any violations.

One of the violations seen this year was actually at a workplace. Recently the health department responded to a complaint from an employee who filed a complaint about an employer allowing smoking in the workplace.

“Some of the employers have gotten a little lax,” Jarczewski said.

Businesses found in violation of the Smoke-free Illinois Act are subject to fines. Fines are assessed at $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation and a $2,500 minimum fine for all subsequent violations within one year of the first violation. Fines for individuals who violate the Smoke-free Illinois Act are not less than $100 and not more than $250.

After the law was enacted in 2008, the number of people who reported smoking in Illinois declined from 21.3 percent in 2008 to 16.9 percent in 2010. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 91 percent of all adults report no exposure to secondhand smoke in indoor public places in Illinois.

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