Enforcement plan in place for smoking ban

URBANA – With only 11 days to go before Urbana restaurants must become smoke-free, the city and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District have reached a tentative agreement on how they'll jointly enforce the smoking ban.

The biggest emphasis will be on education, with several city officials planning to fan out across the city next week to visit 53 Urbana restaurants to explain the smoking ban in detail to restaurant owners and managers.

A copy of the city's smoke-free ordinance, brochures explaining the law and signs advising that a table or business is smoke-free also will be provided.

"We don't expect a lot of complaints," said Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing. "Madison, Wis., which is much bigger than us, only had 50 complaints in its first year. Our emphasis will be on education."

Prussing will be visiting a handful of the restaurants herself. After the restaurant visits are completed, city officials will then visit city workplaces, she said.

Under Urbana's ordinance, restaurants and workplaces must go smoke-free by Aug. 1. Bars must comply by Jan. 1.

In Champaign, restaurants and bars both must be smoke-free by Jan. 31. Workplaces are not covered under Champaign's ordinance.

The public health district and Urbana have a tentative enforcement plan worked out, following a meeting Wednesday at the Urbana City Building.

Under the plan, people who witness illegal smoking can file a complaint with the public health district by telephone or complain in person at the Urbana Police Department.

If a serious complaint is filed, where people are seen smoking or ashtrays are out, the public health district will send an employee within three business days to investigate the complaint. The visit will be educational, with the employee giving the restaurant manager information about the city's smoke-free ordinance and their role in enforcing it, said Diana Yates, the public health district's director of health promotion.

If more complaints about a particular establishment are filed, those will be passed along to the city, Yates said. If multiple complaints are filed, the health department will visit the site again and report its findings to the city.

The public health department won't write tickets for violations, but will be able to serve as a credible witness – "enough for the city to issue a citation," Yates said.

The public health district will provide most of its services for free, but will charge the city when an investigation requires an employee to work overtime.

"It's going to be rare," said Yates about charging overtime. "Only if there are multiple complaints about a site will we send someone in the evening hours to check on if they're in compliance or violating the law."

City employees who frequent businesses during the course of their job, including Community Development employees, police and firefighters, also will be able to investigate smoking complaints.

Urbana plans are to rarely, if ever, cite individual smokers, said Urbana Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Walden.

Instead, business owners are the ones most likely to get a ticket, with fines ranging between $135 and $750, if they repeatedly let smoking go on in their establishment, he said.

"When someone lights up a cigarette, there will not be sirens sounding and police arresting people or issuing tickets," Prussing said.

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