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Smokers get the cold shoulder on state ban's first day
By Lee Filas | Daily Herald Staff

Jeff Pocuis of Glendale Heights, left, and Tim Geiseman of Villa Park grab a quick smoke outside the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin Tuesday, the first day of the statewide indoor smoking ban.

 

Rick West | Staff Photographer

Jonell Werth of Twin Lakes, Wis., the bartender at KC's Cabin in Spring Grove and a non-smoker, likes the fact that she doesn't have to deal with second-hand smoke at work.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Pete Franke, a cook at KC's Cabin, takes a break from his job to have a smoke outside in a heated tent.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Penney Wilson of Wheeling and George Barrington of Villa Park smoke outside of Jimmy's Restaurant and Sports Bar in Des Plaines. Wilson said the new law might cause her to stay home instead of visiting an establishment near her home on Sundays.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Chris Innacelli works as a bartender at Cheeseburger in Paradise in Des Plaines. A sign makes the new no-smoking law clear to patrons.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/1/2008 11:59 PM | Updated: 1/2/2008 11:25 AM

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The red sign with black, block letters taped behind the bar said it all.

"No Smoking."

Bar patrons who smoke faced their fears Tuesday as they were forced to head outside to light up a cigarette in Illinois.

With temperatures plunging into the teens, many smokers said the new law bothered them, but they understood for the most part.

"It's brutal," said Pete Franke, who works at KC's Cabin in Fox Lake. "But, we knew it was coming and we were prepared for it."

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KC's, located about 90 seconds from the Wisconsin/Illinois border, figures to be the worst hit by the law. In minutes, patrons can drive to a bar in Wilmot, Wis., to drink -- and smoke.

But many bar owners further from the border aren't thrilled with the new law.

"I am not happy about this," said Rick Michniewicz, owner of Oz on 12 in Fox Lake. "I don't smoke, but my customers do, and they want to stay inside. And, now, they are all upset."

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a statewide smoking ban into law in July. The state joined 21 other states in prohibiting public smoking.

The law preempts 46 other antismoking laws passed in the suburbs, Chicago and downstate.

Under the new law, smokers have to go out 15 feet from entrances to light up. Violators face fines between $100 and $250. Bars, restaurants and offices that allow smokers face similar fines. The third violation in a year will carry a $2,500 fine.

It is still legal to smoke in homes, cars, outdoors, at cigarette shops and in certain hotel rooms.

Illinois casino operators were among the most vociferous critics of the statewide smoking ban.

The gambling industry lobbied hard to let casino patrons keep smoking, and sought to put the exemption into a still-pending casino expansion deal.

Industry officials predicted the state's take from the casino tax would drop 20 percent this year, or nearly $144 million, if patrons can't smoke and gamble at the same time.

Patrons' reactions to the law at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, which until Tuesday had separate floors for smokers and non-smokers, seemed to corroborate those concerns.

"This is the last day I'll go here. I'll go to Indiana or Wisconsin instead," said Jackie Krukowski, of Chicago, who estimated she comes to Elgin about three times a year to gamble.

At Sullivan's Steakhouse in downtown Naperville, many of the New Year's Eve revelers were well aware of the pending ground rules. Managers announced roughly a half hour before midnight that the smoking ban would go into effect at the new year. By 12:30 a.m., all the ashtrays in the restaurant were gone.

"Some of the regulars couldn't believe how fast it happened," said Terrell Cole, the restaurant chef.

Naperville police did a check of the restaurant shortly after midnight.

Yet Sullivan's general manager Troy Smith said the restaurant will still sell cigars in the store and allow smoking in the outside patio.

At Mullen's Bar and Grill in Lisle, general manager Scott Stanley said he had some concerns over possible loss of business because of the law.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about it," he said. "But today it's a level playing field. There is no patchwork of local legislation that differ depending on the town."

One of the upsides is several employees took the new rules as an occasion to try and quit smoking, Stanley said.

Mullen's patron Adam Schuatz of Wheaton welcomed the change.

"It's nice to not have to worry about the odor in the air and leave a bar with your eyes stinging," he said, over a meal of eggs and bacon.

However, Richard Gray of Naperville said smoking bans should have ultimately be left up to the owners to decide.

Des Plaines was one of the few Cook County towns that still allowed smoking in bars and restaurants up until Monday.

Once the new year started, a table was set up outside of the Beacon Tap with three ashtrays on it. In the downtown area, signs went up right away telling patrons they could no longer light up at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Down the street, friends Penney Wilson and George Barrington stood outside Jimmy's Restaurant smoking in the snow.

"Normally, I would come outside and smoke anyway," said Wilson of Wheeling. "But it bothers me that they had to pass a law and do this. This law gives us no options."

Wilson would frequent a local bar/restaurant by her home on Sunday, going inside to read the paper and eat. Now, she says, she'll stay home since she can't smoke.

Yet the law was welcome to many workers who were exposed to smoke on the job.

Bartender Jonell Werth, of Twin Lakes, Wis., said she can now work without worrying about future health issues.

"A lot of smokers really complained about the law," she said. "But it's a good thing for me. I don't have to worry about secondhand smoke any more."