Secondhand smoke is worse for Oak Park than a ban is for restaurants

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I have been following some of the letters regarding a smoke free Oak Park in WEDNESDAY JOURNAL. I have to admit that I am amazed that the health issue seems to be  secondary for those supporting the continued use of tobacco products in public places. The point of a smoking ban is not to resolve the health issues of smoking, as stated in the Jan. 12 Journal from the Downtown Oak Park Board of Directors ("Smoking ban would be harmful 'over-regulation' of business"). It is to provide a healthy environment for all Oak Parkers.

Just as there are health codes to protect us from unhealthy, poorly prepared food, there should be an ordinance to protect people from breathing the smoke from a substance that is a major contributor to the suffering of those with heart disease and/or cancer. The latter are not non-issues. The smoke free ordinances are supported by the American Cancer Society, The American Lung Association and the American Heart Association for a reason.

It is obvious to me that it is our right to be able to breathe clean air in public places. The status quo proponents know that they can't win any argument based on the health issues. I understand that change raises concerns that business owners will suffer losses to their financial bottom line. The economic loss scenario, however, has not been supported in any research done in municipalities after indoor smoking bans went into effect. The assumptions discussed in the letters are just that. They are groundless fears that all of a sudden the businesses of Oak Park and its patrons will leave in record numbers so they can smoke in nearby towns. This was specifically addressed in Ms. Pate's letter ("Implications of smoking ban range well beyond health").

It is important for employers to understand that the workers in their 8 hour shifts have high levels of exposure that are exceeded only by heavy smokers. Levels are often higher than that documented in non-smoking individuals with smoking spouses. Australian and New Zealand studies have looked at hair nicotine analysis and found high levels in non-smoking workers. This represents a chronic exposure with significant long-term health risks. Employees working in smoky environments many times do not have the option to work else where.

Non-smoking employees have involuntarily become smokers. A study in JAMA (Sept. 27, 1995) makes this painfully clear. Based on measured concentrations of nicotine in the air, restaurant workers may be exposed to the equivalent intake of 18 cigarettes a day or about 40 years of smoking based on an estimated 45 years of lifetime employment.

What about pregnant workers? Everyone knows that smoking during pregnancy is bad for the fetus. Pregnant women exposed to consistent, daily smoke in their environment are basically smoking and will have similar associated risks for their unborn child. "In fact, studies of lung function and airways responsiveness shortly after birth indicate that even exposure in utero may have adverse effects" (Maryland Medical Journal, October, 1995). I have always found it uncomfortable to see a pregnant woman smoke. We should have the same reaction to a pregnant waitress in a smoke-laden environment.

Another frequently ignored concern is the health of children in these environments. Children exposed to cigarette smoke have increased risks of pneumonia, viral respiratory disease, asthma, and ear infections. Small kids breathe at a rate double that of adults. In the same smoky environment small children are exposed to the same or higher smoke intake as adults with larger lungs. Keep in mild that cigarette "exhaust" settles in the environment and just sits there for our children to inhale.

A recent article in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, discussed the lack of awareness of ETS effect on children. Let's think of our children and not unfounded and undocumented fears of lost business and imaginary erosion of our tax base. As I stated in the second paragraph, clean air is as vital as cleanly prepared food and drink free of toxins and infectious agents.

I do strongly feel that Chicago and Illinois should be smoke free. After all if entire states such as California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, now have indoor smoking bans why can't Illinois? I agree that it will avoid the whole independence issue and all businesses will be in the same boat. Instead of Oak Park withdrawing from the issue we should be its champion and support more municipalities in doing the same.

So, proponents of indoor smoking, this is my challenge: Show us the information that proves Oak Park will suffer from a smoking ban. I've given you mine.
Barry Abrams
Oak Park

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