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Cigar smokers find haven from law to practice habit

Sam Durso smiled as he lit up his Romeo Y Julieta cigar in the La Vita Cigars shop.

Durso of West Chicago feels that the shop is his sanctuary now that the Smoke-Free Illinois Act has severely limited where he can light up a stogie.

"It is against my constitutional rights," Durso said about the law, which went into effect Tuesday. "Here, you can smoke a cigar and not be hassled."

Retail tobacco stores are among the few establishments exempted from the act. But there are some rules.

Tobacco stores had to be in operation before Jan. 1 to be exempt.

In addition, more than 80 percent of the store's gross revenues must be from the sale of tobacco or cigar products.

La Vita Cigars welcomes smokers with its two smoking lounges and flat-screen TV sets.

Fellow cigar smoker Angelo Lalagos of Addison has been coming to La Vita Cigars since it opened three years ago. He thinks that the store will see a spike in business because of the new law.

"I think places like this will get more popular," he said.

Unlike Durso, Lalagos supported the new smoking ban.

"In general it is good," he said. "I wouldn't light up a cigar in a restaurant any way."

Jimmy Mougette, manager of La Vita Cigars, said it was too soon to say whether the store would see a boost in business because of the new rules.

"We were open on New Year's Day for the bowl games, and we had a few people come out," Mougette said.

Mougette also took issue with the new rules.

"Most guys who smoke cigars are not looking to offend anyone," he said. "They will go off in their own area and smoke. I'm all for having a smoking ban in a family restaurant. It should have been a matter of choice."

The Smoke-Free Illinois Act requires public places and places of employment to be completely smoke-free inside and within 15 feet from entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes.

The Kane County Health Department has established a phone number for the public to report smoking violations.

Since the act went into effect, the department has received five or six complaints on the line.

"They involve people smoking too close to the door or inside the business," health department spokesman Tom Schlueter said.

The department does not plan on doing any compliance checks to make sure that businesses are following the new rules.

"We are relying on customers and employees to call the number when they see a violation," Schlueter said.

Source: Kane County Chronicle