CHAMPAIGN — More than 10 years after the Smoke Free Illinois Act took effect, the city of Champaign has handed out five tickets for violating the law, which banned smoking indoors in most public places.
All five were handed out in 2008, the year it went into effect.
It’s a similar story in Urbana.
“I checked around, and we haven’t written any citations in recent memory,” said Melissa Haynes, a crime analyst for the Urbana police. “Anecdotally, we have taken complaints in the past and sent them to public health.”
In general, local police issue tickets to individual smokers violating the act, and public health departments issue tickets for businesses.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District received 15 complaints in 2017 across the county and just six so far in 2018.
“We found that we have a relatively small number of complaints,” said Talia Shaw, a health educator with the health district. “I’m not sure if it’s because there aren’t a lot of violations around town or because people are unaware that they can make complaints if they see violations.”
The health department doesn’t have officers patrolling for violations of the law, so it relies on calls made to the state hotline (866-973-4646), online at smoke-free.illinois.gov or through local health departments.
“We almost never hear of anyone smoking indoors in a public facility. Where it gets tricky is that the law extends to 15 feet from doors, windows and ventilation intakes,” Shaw said. “Usually, when we get complaints, it’s when it’s a consistent issue.”
When establishments receive a complaint, both the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the Vermilion County Health Department first issue a written warning to the establishment.”The first thing they’ll get is a letter to make them aware that they may be violating the Smoke Free Illinois Act,” Shaw said. “If we get another complaint from that establishment again, then we do an investigation to see if it warrants a fine.”
If it does, the establishment receives a $250 fine, $500 for another violation and $2,500 for another, if they all happen within a year.
“Typically the complaint is against the establishment for allowing or not enforcing the law on their own premises, and then it becomes an issue for an employee or a regular customer,” Shaw said.
In Vermilion County, five complaints were filed in 2016, six the next year, and six so far this year.
Three food establishments were issued a citation this year and paid a fine, according to Daniel Balgeman, the county’s director of environmental health.
“A large percent are abiding. The ones that aren’t are your bars, and that’s where people are used to doing their heavy smoking and not willing to alienate customers,” Balgeman said.
At the University of Illinois, the Smoke Free Campus Act also bans the activity anywhere on campus property. That includes e-cigarettes.
Since enforcement of the law began in September 2015, UI police have issued 713 tickets, which includes a written warning for the first offense and then escalating fines.
In the first year, 229 tickets were issued, then 256 the next year, 183 last year and 55 so far this year.”I know there was a concerted effort to educate people about the new law, so that would explain why there were so many in just a four-month period in 2015,” said Pat Wade, spokesman for the UI police.
Illinois, along with most other states, passed some sort of smoking ban in the 2000s as the dangers of secondhand smoke became clear.
According to a 2006 report from the U.S. surgeon general, some 65,000 nonsmokers a year died as a result of seconhand smoke, including 2,900 in Illinois.
The laws, along with a decline in smoking rates, have decreased exposure to cigarette smoke.
From 1988-91, about 88 percent of nonsmokers had measurable levels of continine, which the body creates from the nicotine in tobacco smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By 2011-12, that had dropped to 25 percent.