WOOD RIVER - Health officials are cracking down on Madison County bar owners who continue to allow smokers to light up indoors despite a nearly 2-year-old statewide ban.
A Worden establishment was the first in the county to pay a fine for violating the Smoke Free Illinois Act. The law prohibits smoking at indoor public places, such as bars and restaurants.
The Madison County Health Department would not release the name of the bar that paid the fine. The Telegraph filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act last week and is awaiting a response as to which establishment paid the citation.
During a Health Department Committee meeting in September, Mary Cooper, the county's emergency health manager, confirmed a $250 fine was paid.
Kelly Jakubek, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said a second establishment was cited in Madison County; however, rather than pay the fine, the business requested an administrative hearing with the IDPH to dispute the violation. She said American Legion Post 365 in Collinsville was issued a smoking violation on Sept. 2, and a hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 10.
Jakubek said that any person may register a complaint about illegal smoking with the IDPH, a state-certified local public health department or a local law enforcement agency. The Smoke Free Illinois Act states that the agencies may investigate any complaint and, if necessary, assess fines if they find an individual or establishment is in violation.
Fines for individuals range from $100 to $250; fines for business or places of employment range from $250 to $2,500.
If a business is issued a citation, the violator can pay the fine without objection or contest it. If the owner/manager objects, they then are scheduled to go before an administrative hearing.
Cooper said that the Health Department has started issuing citations to establishments where people are caught smoking inside.
"A sanitarian has to actually see someone smoking before a citation can be issued," Cooper said.
Until recently, Cooper said, only warning letters were sent to businesses named in complaints received by the IDPH.
"We now have the authority to issue fines, where when the law first was passed, we didn't," Cooper said.
In February, the state amended the ban that first went into place on Jan. 1, 2008, to include enforcement of citations.
Health officials said most businesses are adhering to the law, and many have gone out of their way to build outdoor areas to accommodate smokers. Complaints still are filed regularly about establishments that allow people to smoke inside, especially those with no patio area.
During warmer weather, Cooper said, there have been fewer calls made about smokers inside, probably because patrons don't mind stepping out to light up. She said people are less likely to step outside in cold weather.
She said that if a complaint is filed about a business, sanitarians will go and inspect.
"We are going in after hours, not just during the day," she said.
Jakubek said since the law was amended, there have been nine hearings requested throughout the state for businesses that were cited for smoking indoors.
To file a complaint, the public can call the IDPH's toll-free number, (866) 973-4646, or visit www.smoke-freeillinois.gov to send information.
Visit to find out more about the Illinois Smoke Free Act.