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A Publication of WTVP

On July 23, Governor Rod Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 500, also known as the Smoke-Free Illinois Act. The law bans smoking in nearly all public places in Illinois, including places of employment, and applies to all employers who employ one or more employees in the state of Illinois. The Act takes effect January 1, 2008, and makes Illinois the 19th state in the country to impose such a ban.

The law also prohibits smoking within “15 feet from entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes that serve an enclosed area where smoking is prohibited; offices and work areas; restrooms; conference and classrooms; break rooms and cafeterias; and other common areas.” While there are some limited exemptions, they are limited to private residences, retail tobacco stores, private or semi-private rooms in nursing homes occupied by smokers and hotel and motel rooms designated as smoking rooms.

The Illinois Department of Public Health, state-certified local public health departments and local law enforcement agencies will enforce the Act. These entities may assess fines prescribed by the Act in amounts not less than $100 and not more than $250 for the first violation, with fines increasing to as much as $2500 for multiple violations within the same year. Violators may also be subject to an injunction. The law requires employers to post no smoking signs at every entrance indicating that smoking is prohibited. The sign must consist of “a pictorial representation of a burning cigarette enclosed in a red circle with a red bar across it.” All ashtrays must also be removed. The Act also prohibits discrimination against any individual in any manner because of the exercise of any rights afforded by the law.

With the ban going into effect in January 2008, now may be the time to improve productivity as well as promote wellness. According to the National Business Group on Health, employers save over $3,800 per year for each employee who quits smoking. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine says smokers cost employers $4,430 per year in lost productivity. According to a survey conducted by the National Business Group on Health, nearly 50 percent of smokers say they take between three and six smoking breaks per day at work, and more than two-thirds of those who take smoke breaks said they last between five and fifteen minutes. The survey included 508 employers and 510 employees who smoke and explored employers’ and employees’ understanding and actions on tobacco use, nicotine addiction and smoking cessation practices. The survey also indicated that employers ranked smoking among their top three employee health priorities, along with high blood pressure and obesity. Furthermore, 82 percent of employers said that they should take steps to help employees quit smoking.

Want to help employees stop smoking? Offering health management or wellness programs to proactively communicate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle is a long-term strategy. You can also keep it simple by offering employees smoking cessation programs and educational materials. Employees who wish to quit may log onto smokefree.gov or call the National Cancer Institute’s Quitline at 877-44U-QUIT, where specialists are available to answer smoking- related questions in English or Spanish. The American Lung Association also has information for employees who want to quit at www.lungusa.org. The National Business Group on Health has a cessation web page for employers at www.businessgrouphealth.org. Your health insurance provider, as well as local health departments and hospitals, may offer free programs, speakers or cessation products to encourage employees to quit smoking. IBI

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