SPRINGFIELD -- When Kouri’s Pub in Peoria was cited on St. Patrick’s Day last year for allowing patrons to smoke in its outdoor beer garden, the owner thought he hadn’t done anything wrong.
When Kouri’s Pub in Peoria was cited on St. Patrick’s Day last year for allowing patrons to smoke in its outdoor beer garden, the owner thought he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Peoria police thought otherwise. Officers issued more than 50 citations to Peoria taverns, including Kouri’s, with the aid of a grant provided by the city and county health department to enforce the Smoke-Free Illinois Act.
State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, is trying to clear the air. He’s introduced a bill to clarify what constitutes an outdoor beer garden where patrons can legally smoke.
“Proponents of the act (are probably thinking) we’re opening Pandora’s box on this, but if we want to resolve this in a way that I think is practical, I think we have to look at establishing these outdoor smoking areas,” Koehler said.
SPRINGFIELD -- When Illinois’ indoor smoking ban was first enacted in 2008, some Peoria bars, including Kouri’s Pub, sought guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health on how to comply when constructing outdoor areas, Koehler said.
The department responded with a letter stating the businesses could build outdoor beer gardens as long as they followed the agency’s guidelines, said Dan O’Day, an attorney for Kouri’s.
“(Some of the guidelines were) in terms of not being closer than 15 feet from any entrance, that there had to be not a total enclosure but some way for air to circulate through there,” Koehler said.
Tom Schafer, deputy director of the office of health promotion at IDPH, said the department has no record of such a letter.
The enclosed beer garden at Kouri’s Pub has one wall that also serves as the establishment’s outer wall and three other sides that are knee-high concrete block walls. The entire area is covered by a roof. Kouri’s said last spring that it checked with IDPH before designing the area, Koehler said.
Schafer said the law states the area cannot be enclosed.
“(Enclosed) means four walls and a roof. If you build a beer garden ... and it has four walls that run from the floor to the ceiling, and it has a roof on it, or has windows, then it would be in violation of the law,” Schafer said. “That would, in my mind, be enclosed. And that’s what the law says.”
Koehler’s proposal would require that one side of the enclosed area be constructed with material that allows smoke to pass through.
But material that allows smoke to pass through hasn’t been defined in building or architectural codes, Schafer said.
The current law defines an “enclosed area” as all space between a floor and a ceiling that is enclosed or partially enclosed with solid walls or windows, exclusive of doorways, or solid walls with partitions and no windows, exclusive of doorways, that extend from the floor to the ceiling, including lobbies and corridors.
Smoking ‘fair game’
When you first walk into Boone’s Saloon’s beer garden in Springfield, the section closest to the bar has roofing. While the entire area is surrounded by wooden fencing, the back section lacks a roof.
Schafer said he believes this bar is acceptable under the current law if smokers stay 15 feet away from its entrance and any windows.
“Some places like that would be certainly OK to smoke in,” he said. “But something that has lattice, partial walls or a fence around it ... the problem comes when you start to define a beer garden as an enclosed place,” he said.
The owner of the Boone’s building, Steve Luparell, said as far as he is concerned, smoking is fair game in a beer garden, regardless of where the smoker is standing.
“I was never told any different,” he said. “I figure I’ve never been asked and I’ve never been told.”
Luparell said he’s never received any smoke-ban citations.
Casey Conn, general manager at Obed and Isaacs in Springfield, said that business allows smoking on its outdoor patio, which lacks a roof but is surrounded by iron fencing. Ashtrays are placed 15 feet or more from the establishment’s entrance, but enforcing the distance rule isn’t so easy, Conn said.
“As an owner, you can’t just walk up to somebody and tell them to put their cigarette out,” he said. “If it becomes an issue, we politely ask them” to put it out or move.
Conn said the establishment hasn’t been cited for any smoke-ban violations. Customers must walk through the smoke-permitted area to enter the establishment. Employees have the option of using a separate entrance, he said.
Koehler said he hopes his legislation clears up exactly what bar owners, and their customers, can and cannot do.
He said it doesn’t make sense for bars like Kouri’s, which have made investments in their property, to be fined even though they followed guidelines offered by the state health department.
Instead of calling the legislation for a vote last spring, the Beer Garden Task Force, a subcommittee of the Illinois Senate Labor Committee, asked the IDPH to clarify how to enforce the law regarding outdoor beer gardens and eating areas in which patrons are allowed to smoke.
That hasn’t happened yet, Koehler said.
Schafer said the department is willing to work with Koehler to “come up with an acceptable piece of legislation.”
Lauren Leone-Cross can be reached at (217) 782-6292.
Illinois’ indoor smoking ban
Illinois was the 13th state in 2008 to enact an indoor smoking ban, which was designed to reduce health risks associated with exposure to second-hand smoke. As a result, the state is generally healthier than it was five years ago and more people have shown a desire to kick the habit, health officials say.
According to Illinois’ law, anyone who owns, operates or controls a public place of place of employment can be fined at least $250 for the first violation and at least $500 for the second violation within one year of the first violation.
A third violation within one year after the first violation carries a fine of $2,500 or more.