As president of the Illinois Restaurant Association and life-long resident of Oak Park, I am compelled to respond to the letter submitted by Mark Peysakhovich ("Smoke-free OP would protect health, boost local economy") in the December 1 issue of WEDNESDAY JOURNAL. In his letter, Mr. Peysakhovich stated that the recent proposal to ban smoking in Oak Park faces opposition from the Illinois Restaurant Association, "a powerful lobby group which has previously received funding from the tobacco industry and is doing Big Tobacco's dirty work here in Oak Park."
While it is true that the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) is opposed to a government mandate that would detrimentally impact some restaurants in Oak Park, it is highly disingenuous for Mr. Peysakhovich to state that the IRA is simply doing the work of "Big Tobacco." The Illinois Restaurant Association is an association of employers and business owners who represent over 6,500 foodservice establishments in Illinois and many in Oak Park. These employers are hard working men and women, entrepreneurs and small business owners who have invested heavily in their business by providing a diversity of cuisines, high-quality service, jobs for the community and contribute heavily to the tax base in Oak Park. These are the people that the IRA represents. It is insulting for Mr. Peysakhovich to say otherwise.
The IRA does not condone the use of tobacco?#34;which remains a legal product today. We maintain that these decisions on whether to allow smoking or not, should be made by the individual restaurant operator and their customers. It is our position that a smoking ban in Oak Park restaurants could possibly force reductions in employee hours and jobs. A smoking ban would erode the already meager 3-5 percent profit margins many restaurants operate under. It would also create an un-level playing field where Oak Park restaurants would clearly lose business to restaurants in other communities, especially Forest Park, Elmwood Park, and Berwyn. Several cities in Illinois?#34;with significant numbers of restaurants like Oak Park (Evanston, Arlington Heights and Wheeling) have chosen to either exempt restaurants and bars from their smoking ban or voted against it altogether, citing the negative effect it would have on their local businesses and economy.
Oak Park restaurants are well aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy workforce and the positive benefits that are attributed to a healthy and productive environment. Restaurateurs are meeting their customers' demands. In fact, nearly 70 percent of foodservice establishments in Oak Park are already voluntarily smoke-free. The October 2004 Community Survey commissioned by the Village of Oak Park even indicated that 85 percent of residents do not believe secondhand smoke in restaurants is a major problem facing Oak Park. It is clear that a smoking ban is a solution looking for a problem.
The IRA stands ready to work with the people of Oak Park regarding this issue.