Saturday, October 18, 2008
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Logan County Department of Public Health administrator: Smoking scofflaws could lose liquor or food licenses

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[October 18, 2008]  Mark Hilliard, administrator of the Logan County Department of Public Health, held a press conference Friday afternoon to clarify the smoking ban issue.

Hilliard said he called the media at this time after an anonymous letter was discussed at the Lincoln City Council workshop. The letter made allegations that community bars and taverns were no longer complying with the Smoke Free Illinois Act and nothing was being done to enforce the law.

The rumors of area establishments no longer following the ban and an additional rumor that one tavern has placed ashtrays out began after a Bureau County judge dismissed charges against a Burbank man who was fined for smoking in an area tavern. The judge based his decision on the fact that without a formulated due process for defendants to appeal or dispute their fines, the law is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The Logan County Department of Public Health and all county public health agencies were given the unfunded mandate of enforcing the law -- a law that Hilliard admits is a "poor piece of legislation." Hilliard pointed out that without funding, the agency has no manpower available after normal business hours to patrol area establishments. "We have no resources to conduct 'stings' or to monitor businesses after hours," he said.

Hilliard wanted it understood, however, that such facts do not mean that the Department of Public Health isn't doing anything, and such claims are not factual. To date the agency has received 18 complaints of noncompliance with the law in our county. Of those, five were repeat offenders.

The demographics of the complaints were about evenly split between city of Lincoln and county businesses, with 85 percent of the establishments being bars or taverns.

All the businesses allegedly allowing smoking on the premises received letters from the Department of Public Health stating that a complaint had been filed against their establishment. The letter restated the law to the establishment owner.


The five second-time complaints received secondary letters, again explaining the law. In addition, someone from the health department visited the establishment to look for signs that they were ignoring the law, including smoking, while they were investigating the complaint of ashtrays out in the business. It was discussed that one such complaint at a business could be an oversight or error that is not normally the case at that business. "The litmus test for us is subsequent complaints on that business," Hilliard said.

Additionally, the health department notifies Lincoln's city attorney and the Logan County state's attorney of all complaints that are acted on.

There have been no businesses ticketed by the agency so far. With the fine suspect of being dismissed in a court of law, it is questionable if it would do any good to do so.

That does not mean violators cannot or will not receive severe penalties if they ignore the Smoke Free Illinois Act in Logan County. Hilliard stated that such establishments could have their food or liquor licenses suspended or revoked, as both licenses include wording that the business will be in compliance with all other federal and Illinois laws, which would include the Smoke Free Illinois Act.

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Hilliard did not accept as an excuse that establishments have no control over clients smoking. When a person has had too much to drink, "they can refuse to over-serve customers and can ask them to leave. They can do the same with smokers."

It was also pointed out that it is unfair for businesses honoring the law to allow other businesses to ignore the ban. Hilliard mentioned that several businesses have built expensive beer gardens to be in compliance with the law.

Hilliard noted that the country is in a "culture of change" when it comes to smoking habits, mentioning that a voluntary ban on smoking was growing rapidly with Logan County establishments before the law was established. The law just made the change encompass every business. "For some businesses (those that had voluntarily banned smoking), the law was a relief. It created a level playing field," Hilliard noted.

Hilliard said that the process to determine that a business is ignoring the law is difficult as well as slow, especially with anonymous complaints that aren't specific as to date, time and place. Care must also be taken that someone isn't just filing a complaint to get back at a dram owner for some other problem the individual has had with the bar or tavern.

Hilliard is hopeful in his belief that when the legislature comes back into session, the flaws in the law will be addressed and changed to make the law enforceable. "Smoke Free Illinois isn't going to go away," he affirmed.

For those interested in more information about the law or how to file a complaint on the Web, they can go to or call the toll-free state number 866-973-4646. Names of complainants are considered confidential.


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