Barbara Bushue is ready to cross Illinois visits off her to-do list, as far as smoking is concerned.
Bushue, a smoker, and her husband, Art, were sitting Monday afternoon at the Sundown Cafe in Clinton, Wis. The restaurant restricted smoking to the front counter a few months ago, and she’s tired of government infringing on her personal rights.
"I’m not going (to Illinois) if I can’t smoke," she said. "Our government is starting to legislate morality. Next they’ll be telling me I have to wear boots in the rain and what vitamins to take."
Her reaction was common among smokers and business owners Monday who learned that Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which bans smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants and casinos. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.
Larry Didier, tobacco programs coordinator for the Winnebago County Health Department, said officials are going to encourage businesses to go smoke-free before Jan. 1.
"They can take advantage of going smoke-free earlier with customers in November and December, and those people will be more likely to come back after Jan. 1," Didier said. "They’ll recognize those businesses as smoke-free ahead of time. Otherwise, it may come as a real shock to people."
Jim Smith, general manager of Park Lanes in Loves Park, said he thinks the ban will affect business. He said people stay at the bowling alley an average of two to four hours as opposed to an hour at a restaurant.
"There’s mixed conversation from nonsmokers because we interact with smokers all the time," he said. "It doesn’t bother me, and it seems like the law was passed for some people who don’t frequent bars anyway. People have a choice. Businesses who felt like they could do more business by going nonsmoking should be able to go nonsmoking."
Smith said his business has adapted to antismoking tends through the years, such as designating specific smoking areas and doing smoke-free events for children on Saturdays.
There’s still a sign on the Sundown Cafe’s front door in Clinton, a town of about 2,000 people, warning patrons of the smoking restriction.
Waitresses Colleen Vanderkooi and JoDee Novotny said it’s been an adjustment.
"There’s been a lot of construction around town, so it’s hard to know for sure if we’ve seen a little less business because of that or the smoking change or both," Vanderkooi said.
Vanderkooi, a smoker for 25 years, said all of the bans may encourage her to stop smoking. "I really need to quit, but I haven’t gotten there yet."
She said the restaurant gets business from Rockford, Belvidere and Capron, so more people might visit as long as they can smoke there. Novotny said they have noticed that tables turn over faster, meaning more business during busy times like Friday nights, because people don’t linger to finish their cigarettes.
The Bushues have frequented the Sundown Cafe for more than 20 years. They visit usually every day (Barbara says she doesn’t cook) and said it was a slight inconvenience, mostly the comfort factor, to move to the front counter to smoke.
Art, who’s not a big drinker, said he would be concerned for bars because "drinking and smoking go together." He said village officials haven’t considered a smoking ban.
The Illinois law is one of the most comprehensive and stringent in the U.S., Didier said. He attended the governor’s news conference Monday in Chicago announcing the ban.
"Other states have had problems where they’ve gone back and removed exemptions from the law," he said. "It’s a lot easier to make the law as comprehensive as possible."
Jane Jones opened Jane’s Cafe almost 10 years ago in Beloit, Wis., a few blocks from the Illinois border. She wasn’t happy about the city’s smoking ban, which took effect July 1, saying that if government wants to regulate smoking, legislators should pull cigarettes from the shelves.
"I pay taxes. I pay my permits as a business owner," said Jones, who is not a smoker. "There are so many other issues they should be worried about besides smoking."
Jones said she has seen a little less business this summer, but that also could be blamed on such factors as high gas prices. But she has seen a few more people from the Rockford area travel her way because they support the smoking ban.
She’s also frustrated that the law allows smoking at certain establishments rather than banning it everywhere.
"That’s sending bad messages to business owners: You can’t have certain business and they can," Jones said. "I’m not forcing someone to come into Jane’s. I’m not forcing you to eat here."
Winnebago County Health Department Administrator Mike Bacon said the efforts to change smoking habits started with tobacco lawsuit settlements in the 1990s. More recently, the surgeon general issued a report in 2006 about smoking dangers, especially the effects of secondhand smoke.
More than 400 deaths are tobacco-related in Winnebago County, Bacon said.
"It’s an important step for the state of Illinois," he said. "It’s not just about establishing policies to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke but to reduce tobacco use and contribute to the changing public attitude that it’s no longer acceptable to smoke in places where other people can be exposed."
Staff writer Melissa Westphal can be reached at 815-544-3452 or email@example.com.