By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
There were some specific topics dominating local conversation five years ago.
Some were concerned about the skyrocketing prices tied to a gallon of gas when a barrel of petroleum reached $100 for the first time, while in Quincy there was also some serious gnashing of teeth over the new smoking ban that became law on Jan. 1, 2008.
No longer would lighting up be permitted in taverns, restaurants and other workplaces or indoor public sites. Most of all, it was the tavern and restaurant part of the equation that was creating most of the outcry from those on both sides of the issue.
Some smokers were predicting the end of civilization as we know it, while nonsmokers rejoiced, feeling those who like their Marlboros and Swisher Sweets had no right to infringe upon their fresh air.
Five years later, there seems to be a surprising peace.
Smokers have adapted to stepping outside for the occasional puff, the environments within most restaurants and taverns are now much more healthful, and at least some of the restaurant and bar owners have found an unexpected boom in business as a result of the law.
Mike Crimmins, general manager of Village Inn, 200 N. 36th, is one of those individuals who has been touched by the law on a number of levels.
Crimmins -- a smoker himself -- previously worked in Florida in the bar and restaurant industry when that state invoked a similar law a decade ago, legislation that had roots as far back as 1985. He said the initial reaction in Florida was the same kind of gloom and doom that many spoke of in Illinois five years ago. There was the talk of personal rights from both sides of the political camp, coupled with worry from restaurant and bar owners that their business would take a serious nosedive.
And business did tail off at first, Crimmins said.
"But it picked up a couple of months afterward, and the same thing that happened in Florida has happened here," he said.
Crimmins said the no-smoking law has attracted more patrons to more sites, knowing they would not have to combat secondhand smoke. Crimmins said the amount of new customers far outweighed the relative few that the no-smoking ban might have cost specific establishments.
"I firmly believe the law has been a positive," he said. "The additional money flowing from this law is good for our community. The (no-smoking) law is bringing people out (to restaurants, taverns, etc.) who normally might not have come out."
Crimmins also said he is planning to quit smoking this year.
Paul Lester, who is an occasional smoker, and his wife moved to Quincy from California six years ago. They left a state with a similar smoking ban in public places to find quite a different environment. He is adamant in his support of the smoking ban.
"We were disgusted with what we found here," he said. "My wife would not even go to (a lot of) the restaurants here because of the smoke. How can you enjoy a meal when the place smells like an ashtray? Smoking is a filthy, disgusting habit, and why do (smokers) feel they have the right to ruin someone else's meal?"
Keith Franks, who has been an on-again, off-again smoker, also supports the nonsmoking policies, especially "from a public safety health standpoint."
"I've been a smoker, but you have to look at the bigger picture," said Franks, who once worked at a bar.
Jeremy Grootens has tended bar at Mr. Bill's, 538 S. 12th, for five years, experiencing the full run of the 5-year-old law. He doesn't feel there has been any sort of great damage done to bars, especially those which rely on more than alcohol sales to pay the bills.
"It hasn't had any real (effect) on us," Grootens said. "I didn't think it would, because 80 percent of our business is food."
Megan Bowman works at State Street Bar and Grill, 1638 State, and said the no-smoking topic has been a popular conversation point of late. The consensus, Bowman said, seems to be that most of the tavern's customers approve of the ban for restaurants but would like to see it lifted for bars.
State Street Bar and Grill, like many other taverns in town, provides an outdoor beer garden where clients can both drink and smoke -- when weather permits. At this time of year, however, that's not always possible.
Bowman, who smokes, says she understands the concerns of those who do not.
"I smoke, but I don't like to go in somewhere and come out smelling like a cigarette," she said.