BLOOMINGTON — As Illinois adds electronic cigarettes to the list of tobacco products banned inside public places, Bloomington-Normal businesses are expecting little to no change in operations.
The 15-year-old Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which makes most indoor public spaces off-limits for smoking, will now include electronic cigarettes as well, as of Jan. 1.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law along with nearly 600 other bills this past year to prevent exposure to bystanders and reduce air pollution.
“Illinoisans deserve to enjoy public spaces without being exposed unwillingly to secondhand vapor and other electronic cigarettes byproducts,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Now, e-cigarettes and vapes will qualify under existing anti-smoking laws, reducing air pollution and making a more accessible, healthy Illinois.”
The law bans smoking in public spaces including a “portion of any building or vehicle used by and open to the public,” and will now apply to any electronic nicotine products such as e-cigarettes, e-hookahs or vape pens.
Will it affect vape shops?
Although the ban is new, most businesses do not see it changing anything with their operations or for their customers.
“I don’t feel like it’s going to change too much because it will just be smoke outside rather than in a public setting,” said Zion Atkins, general manager at Delta Vapes in downtown Bloomington. “I don’t even think there’s still any places that even let you smoke cigarettes indoors anymore so I don’t know why people are smoking vapes in public spaces.”
Atkins said the trend sort of burned out when the Smoke-Free Illinois Act went to in effect and now it’s not something you see that often, especially when a majority of smokers are stepping outside.
Atkins said personally he doesn’t think many people are thinking of where they can go to vape or trying to vape the whole time when they are out eating or at the bar.
“If you want to hit your vape, step outside and vape it, but everybody who’s smoking cigarettes is already doing that,” Atkins said.
Even at vape stores, customers are not vaping indoors. The most vapor one might see would be when a customer wants to test the product before walking out, Atkins said. The majority of vape shops have an “all sales are final” policy and would rather have customers test their products first to see if it works, instead of potentially leaving with a vape that isn’t working correctly.
“At least at Delta Vapes, it’s not a vapor lounge so you’re not sitting inside a public setting, just sitting there vaping the entire time you’re in there,” Atkins said. “I don’t even know if too many of those exist anymore.”
E-cigarettes and vapes have become especially popular with young people for a variety of reasons, including the types flavors and the lack of stigma associated with the product. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “most e-cigarette users do not consider themselves to be smokers.”
While cigarette smoking has declined dramatically among Illinois high school students, between 2016 and 2018 “e-cigarette use in Illinois increased from 18.4% to 26.7% among high school seniors,” the IDPH reports.
“E-cigarettes pose a significant health risk,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said in a statement. “Banning indoor use of these devices sends a strong message that e-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to smoking.”
Atkins said he has seen an increase in store customers buying the zero-nicotine vape pen to help them ease off of the habit.
The ban in bars
Tyler Holloway, who owns Maggie Miley’s Irish pub in uptown Normal and Fat Jacks in downtown Bloomington and is a partner at Brass Pig Smoke & Alehouse downtown, said he does not think the ban will affect his or other businesses.
“I don’t see (vaping) being done very often in my establishments, and I don’t think the ban is going to cause a big issue to where I’ll see a drop, or rise, in business for that matter,” Holloway said. “I don’t know of any complaints that we’ve had about it, so I don’t really foresee an issue at all with it.”
Others like Luke Rokos, general manager at Pub II in uptown Normal, said they have allowed vaping indoors and had little to no issues with customers.
However, Rokos said he doesn’t think the new ban will affect his business, but he could see it causing problems for people who may not know it went into effect.
“I think the hard part about the ban is going to be the lack of knowledge,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to educate our clientele and enforce it when we can.”
Enforcing the ban might be more difficult though, Rokos said, “because it’s not like a cigarette that stays lit forever, and you can clearly see a puff of smoke going up.”
A puff of vapor, on the other hand, “next thing you know, it’s gone, so we don’t really know right away who did it,” Rokos added.
The Pub II manager said bars and restaurants that have been around for a while already know the ramifications for not following the law, having seen places try to sneak by the cigarette smoking ban.
Anyone who is caught using an e-cigarette in a public place in violation of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act can be fined $100 for the first offense and $250 for the subsequent offenses. The owners of the place where the person violates the law could be on the hook for a $500 penalty at first and $2,500 for all subsequent violations for the next year.
Rokos said he hopes everybody just follows the rules, and at Pub II, “We’re going to follow the rues and do what we can.”
The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.
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