After a hearing in Peoria last week, an Illinois Senate committee has directed the Department of Public Health (DPH) to write official rules about smoking in outdoor restaurant patios and bar beer gardens.  The hearing was prompted by an incident in which many Peoria-area bars and patrons received smoking tickets for violating the Smoke Free Illinois Act when they thought they were in compliance with the law.  In at least one case, the bar owners had explicitly sought the advice of DPH before they started construction on their beer garden.

“We really need to clarify rules for the police, as well as restaurant and bar owners,” said State Senator Dave Koehler, who has taken a lead role in pushing the issue to the forefront.  “We can’t have Public Health telling bar owners one thing and the police enforcing another.  That’s just not fair for anyone.”

Koehler joined Senators Darin LaHood, Linda Holmes, Pam Althoff, and Ed Maloney to write a letter to DPH asking them to address the issue.  The letter also included a copy of Senate Bill 842, which Senator Koehler drafted with the help of Peoria State’s Attorney Jerry Brady.  The legislation lays out what Koehler and Brady believe is a reasonable framework for enforcing the Smoke Free Illinois Act in outdoor areas.

“The purpose of the smoking ban was to protect people—especially employees—from second-hand smoke,” Koehler explained.  “When people are outside, there’s enough ventilation that second-hand smoke isn’t nearly as big an issue, so patios and beer gardens give restaurants and bars a way to cater to smoking patrons without inconveniencing others.”

The proposed framework clarifies that smoking is allowed outdoors as long as smokers stay at least 15 feet away from doors and open windows and either the roof or one or more walls are open to fresh air.  It also requires employers to allow their workers to opt out of working in areas where people might be smoking.