Bob Miller, a smoker, still enjoys having a beer and a conversation at the Madison Street bar he has patronized for a decade, though he can no longer light up. He’s trying to give up cigarettes, he said, and is working to make lemonade out of lemons.
“It’s a nice, gentle nudge in the right direction,” Miller said of the state’s new smoking ban.
Miller isn’t exactly a fan of the legislation that kicked in on Jan. 1 and makes it illegal for smokers to puff in traditionally smoker-friendly environments. But he’s trying to maintain a positive outlook and, while seated at the bar at Doc Ryan’s, noted that it’s probably better that he wasn’t enjoying a smoke.
Illinois became the 22nd state in the nation to ban smoking in public places, a move that has drawn both cheers and jeers. Critics have argued that Big Brother is overstepping his bounds and hurting the economy. Supporters, meanwhile, say the move will decrease health risks associated with breathing second-hand smoke.
“I hate the fact that the government shoves it down your damn throat,” John Galassi, a smoker and regular at Duffy’s Tavern said.
Duffy’s is a bar in the strictest sense of the word, said Galassi, and offers an entirely different environment than a restaurant. He conceded that in places where food is served a smoking ban might make sense, but people go to bars to smoke and drink.
Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-7th, was a leading sponsor of the bill and said she’s working on a few housecleaning items to offer exemptions for medical research and quality control within the tobacco industry. Largely, she said, the feedback has been positive.
“I’ve gotten some wonderful e-mails, phone calls and letters,” Yarbrough said.
In the first few weeks of the New Year, the state representative said she had received “probably” one comment critical of the measure.
At the Kazzbar, bartender Debbie Powers is lamenting the apparent loss of personal responsibility. Powers said she makes it a point not to smoke around her young grandchildren, but it seems the government doesn’t trust adults to make their own decisions about where to socialize.
Powers and bar owner Greg Kazzbar pointed to the almost empty tavern on a recent afternoon and said their income is taking a direct hit from the new law. Though January and February are typically slower months, Kazzbar said he has no doubts the new ban is hurting his business.
“All my bartenders smoke,” Kazzbar said. “They’re getting cranky, they’re going outside constantly to smoke and that leaves the bar unattended.”
During a recent shift in Berwyn where she also pours drinks, Powers said she didn’t have a single customer.
Outside of Bertuca Salon and Spa, Stephanie Smith was taking a break from her job and enjoying a cigarette as she leaned against the front of the building. Smokers are now prohibited from standing within 15 feet of an entryway, according to the statewide ban, but Smith said it’s tough to be 15 feet from anything along Madison Street’s congested sidewalk.
The ban hasn’t really affected her, said Smith, but she does appreciate not having to cut through a wall of smoke when she goes out drinking with friends.
“I hated it, I think it’s disgusting,” Smith said.
Charlie Stupar is a nonsmoker and for 20 years has been a regular at Duffy’s, where the debate raises strong emotions on both sides. The state is asking people to change a longtime behavior, said Stupar and the arguments are really about whose rights are more important.
“It took a couple of days to realize this place didn’t reek of smoke,” Stupar said. “It’s a welcome relief for me.”
A tertiary effect that has been realized is the increase in cigarette butts being thrown on the sidewalks. Ken Cheatham, the director of employment services at Oak-Leyden Developmental Services, helps oversee a crew that regularly sweeps up Madison Street. Oak-Leyden’s staff has seen a “noticeable increase” of discarded butts, he said.