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DECATUR — Randy Janes remembers how his head felt when he was around smokers puffing away at the bowling alley.

"My sinus would get all stuffed up as a result of the smoke," the Mount Zion man said. "Every time I'd go back to bowl, I would get sick."

Then the air cleared.

It may not seem like it was a decade ago, but 2018 marks a whole 10 years since the Smoke Free Illinois Act went into effect, outlawing lighting up in virtually every public place statewide.

In the period since, there’s been a 20.5 percent decrease in hospitalizations for conditions aggravated by secondhand smoke -- like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart attacks -- according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The youth smoking rate dropped by more than 50 percent.

But passage of the smoking ban wasn't without controversy. Operators of bars, coffee shops and casinos said customers and their money would be pushed away, while advocates saw it as a matter of public health to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke.

Despite efforts by some lawmakers to craft exemptions for businesses like casinos, the plan as its known today cleared the General Assembly in 2007 and was signed by into law by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

On Jan. 1, 2008, Illinois joined 12 other states and Washington, D.C., in implementing a full ban on indoor smoking in public places, as well as within 15 feet of building entrances.

Mark Drain, who worked at the restaurant Lock, Stock and Barrel in Decatur at the time, remembers a hit to the bar side when the law went into effect. But Drain, now the tap room manager at Door 4 Brewing Co., also recalls business picking up on the restaurant side.

“We served a lot of food, so I think those places that had restaurants did better, since a percentage of the population really liked the ban,” Drain said.

To offset the potential customer exodus, some bars made outdoor patio areas where customers could take drinks and light up. The state also tried to help bars and restaurants that struggled after the rule went into effect. One way was approval of a measure in 2009 to legalize video gaming.

Decatur City Council members specifically pointed to the indoor smoking ban, as well as a crackdown on driving while intoxicated, for supporting video gaming inside the city. The start of the smoking ban also coincided with the larger economic downturn and recession.

For places like Spare Time Lanes in Decatur, implementation of the smoking ban coincided with a shift in its customer base.

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Swartz_Bill 1 5.11.18

Bill Swartz lights a cigarette outside during a visit to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 99 on Friday afternoon. It's been 10 years since Illinois banned smoking in indoor public places. 

Gary Haines, who has owned the North Woodford Street business since 1998, said the days of hazy lanes filled with league bowlers had already started to decline by the time the smoking prohibition went into effect. While the bar inside the bowling alley has seen some decline, in part, because of the ban, Haines said the lack of smoke has made the business more appealing to families and for youth birthday parties, which has grown to become an important part of the business.

“The old leagues with the factory workers aren’t really around anymore,” Haines said. “But we have a better atmosphere for the kids and the families.”

Drain and Haines said the one saving grace for businesses was that the ban was statewide, which essentially forced residents to become used to the new norm.

Today, 25 states prohibit smoking indoors. While California was the first to enact statewide restrictions on smoking, in 1994, its law has an exemption that allows indoor smoking in designated break rooms. Delaware was the first state to implement a full, statewide ban on indoor smoking in public places, in 2002.

As of 2018, 15.8 percent of adults in the state smoke, down from 20.7 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. Additionally, the high school smoking rate has fallen more than 53 percent in the past 11 years.

The youth smoking rate is one of the reasons state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, sponsored legislation to raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21. Fourteen Illinois communities have similar ordinances. The state proposal, which passed the Senate in April, has brought opposition from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

"Quality of life is really critical to our society, and we wanted our young people to know that the earlier you engage in addictions, the more likely your health challenges — chronic health challenges — you'll have to face," Lilly said in a January interview with the Chicago Tribune.

According to the United Health Foundation’s annual America’s Health Rankings, smoking dropped in Illinois from about 20 percent of adults to just over 15 percent between 2008 and 2017. Two years, 2009 and 2012, showed an increase.

Still, there are critics of the 2008 rule change.

John Kruse, a patron of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 99 in Decatur, said he still believes it should have been up to the businesses, not the state, to determine policies.

"I think it is unconstitutional to just throw this rule out there," he said during a recent visit. "Some businesses wanted smoking, some didn't. They should have been able to make the choice."

Diana Oliver, manager of the VFW Post 99 bar, said most opposition among her customers has been snuffed out in the years since.

"They don't complain about it anymore," Oliver said. "It's way down the road from when they stopped it."

Contact Ryan Voyles at (217) 421-7985. Follow him on Twitter: @RVVoyles

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Macon County Reporter

Macon County reporter for the Herald & Review.

"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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