City: dozens of bars busted on smoking

It's  too early to tell whether the new statewide smoking ban is hurting Chicago bars and restaurants, but city officials haven't wasted any time cracking down on offenders.

The city has received 79 complaints for violations of the state law for non-food establishments, public health chief Terry Mason said today. It sent out 72 letters to the offending businesses.

In the same time period, it has received 103 complaints for restaurants, and followed up with 94 letters.

First and second complaints generate a letter from the health department. A third complaint within a 12-month period prompts a visit from a health inspector.

The bitter cold temperatures and traditional post-Christmas slump in restaurant business makes the ban's impact hard to gauge. But for many establishments it seems like business as usual.

Erin Folan, a manager at O'Donovan's in Irving Park neighborhood, seemed happy with the ban.

"It smells a whole lot better in here now," said Folan. The servers have had to adjust routines a bit, Folan reports.

"Now we have to watch the customers when they go outside to smoke; servers have to hold onto their credit cards. We also have to put little signs on their tables so nobody clears their stuff away."

Derek Caroll, a manager at O'Brien's American Patio on North Wells in Old Town said that the adjustment has been relatively easy, even for bartenders and waitresses who smoke.

"We haven't had too much of a problem," said Caroll. We don't have many servers that smoke. Those who do usually do it before they start."

Come summertime O'Brien's patio will be completely nonsmoking, Caroll said, as most of the patio is within 15 feet of the kitchen door and exit.

Meanwhile, traditionally non-smoking restaurants are hoping for a boost in business.

Brandon Wright owns Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville, which has been smoke-free since it opened in June 2006.

"We're hoping that we will maybe see an increase from people who might have formerly avoided us because we're non-smoking," said Wright.

"But with this blistering cold, the weather has had much more of an impact. It's just too soon to get a grasp on the effects."

Wright added that those few staff who do smoke are used to putting up with frosty and furtive smoke breaks, since the restaurant has always prohibited smoking.

Meanwhile, the city's health department today approved an updated version of the Chicago Indoor Air Ordinance, originally passed in 2005. The new city law incorporates language from the statewide Smoke Free Illinois Act which went into effect on Jan. 1.

The one distinction is that the city will retain its more stringent, blanket ban on smoking in nursing homes. The state ban makes an exception for private and semi-private rooms that are located on the same floor and are contiguous in nursing homes.

The ordinance make the city responsible for adjudicating violations in the Department of Administrative hearings. Now 100 percent of the fines collected will go to city coffers. Previously, the city and state split the money generated by the fines.

Ald. Tom Tunney [D-44], who owns Ann Sather restaurants in Chicago, said at a City Council health committee meeting today that businesses will need very clear directions about where smoking is allowed.

"For outdoor beer gardens and for the outdoor cafe season we should have really, really clear guidelines about the smoking ordinance," said Tunney, whose experiences with bars and restaurant in his neighborhood leads him to believe that "they're not really clear."

Tunney also said that he thinks problems with compliance are often coming "from the employee department."

Fines are set at $100 to $250 for individuals and $250 to $2,500 for businesses.


BILL HANNEGAN, 02-02-2008

The American Cancer Society pressured the Illinois legislature to impose a smoking ban on bars and restaurants with an alarming, yet misleading, claim: "One eight-hour shift in a smoke-filled workplace is the equivalent of smoking 16 cigarettes."

The study the group cites in support of this claim, however, merely suggests that eight hours in a smoky workplace might provide 16 cigarettes' worth of one chemical: NDMA (N- nitroso-dimethylamine), a chemical far more present in secondhand smoke than actively inhaled smoke.

Does this mean that a bartender in a previously smoky Illinois bar was automatically a 16-cigarette-a-day passive smoker? No way. Research by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that the amount of smoke a bartender breathes is far less. The research showed that the total tobacco-specific particles actually inhaled by a bartender in a smoky bar equals about one-fifth of a cigarette per eight-hour shift, or one cigarette per 40-hour week.

The tricky 16-cigarette claim by the Cancer Society may have swayed a close smoking ban vote in the legislature. Is a law based on such a phony claim valid?

Bill Hannegan

BO B SPECK, 02-02-2008

I used to return to Chicago from Honolulu every year for a high school reunion (Mt. Carmel). I no longer do. It would be insane to spend over $2,000 to be uncomfortable.