The time for a smoke-free Oak Park is now

Opinion

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By DAVID ANSELL

First let me start with an introduction and a story. I am an Oak Park resident and a physician. My children are products of the Oak Park public schools. Mv wife and I have lived in Oak Park for 19 years.

Now the story. A doctor sees a patient in his office with a broken leg. He repairs it and sends the patient off. The next day he sees two patients with broken legs. He repairs them and sends them off. The next day he sees four patients with broken legs. He decides to ask the last patient how he broke his leg and the patient points to a big hole in the street in front of the doctor's office. After work, the doctor gets a shovel and tills in the hole. No more broken legs. My civic participation, until now has been confined to coaching youth baseball, softball and soccer, until I joined the Campaign for a Smoke Free Oak Park. To fill a hole.

As a physician. I treat many patients with smoking related diseases. As a community member and a physician, I know that the greatest impact that one can have on health is to prevent a disease before it happens. This means tackling the problem of smoking and its effect on health. And once you know the facts, you must act. That is not to say to smokers that they do not have the right to smoke. It's just that their right to smoke stops where someone else's breathing space begins.

Here are the facts. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for health. In fact, in the US, smoking related deaths number over 400,000 each year. What many people do not know is that second hand smoke is also bad for health. In fact, exposure to second hand smoke is the third most common cause of death in the US. Let me list what is known about the harmful effects of second hand smoke. These facts can be summarized:

? Secondhand smoke kills an estimated 65,000 people annually.

? Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals including 69 that cause cancer; it is a proven carcinogen. (Environmental Protection Agency)

? For every eight smokers who die from tobacco use, one dies from second hand tobacco exposure.

? People who are exposed to secondhand smoke have 25 to 35 percent higher heart attack death rates. Nonsmoking workers working in a smoking environment have a 16-19 percent increased risk of developing lung cancer.

? Children exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of respiratory infections and irritations and exposure to secondhand smoke increases the number and severity of asthma attacks in children and adults with asthma.

These are facts. The evidence. It was on the basis of these facts that in the late 1980s airlines, hospitals, schools, public places and most workplaces went smoke free. In Oak Park and Illinois, restaurants and bars were exempted from this ban, after immense pressure from the tobacco industry and the Illinois Restaurant Association. Is secondhand smoke less harmful in a restaurant than an airplane or hospital? There is just no reasonable way to separate smoking air from nonsmoking air. There are no safe levels of exposure to secondhand smoke and the harmful effects of exposure linger for days and are present even in the absence of the smell of smoke. There are no ventilation systems that can remove all the toxins in second hand smoke.

Lets talk about who is getting exposed. Workers. Children. Adults. A worker who spends eight hours in a smoked filled restaurant inhales the equivalent of 16 cigarettes. Many of our teenage children work as hostesses, waitresses and busboys at local restaurants. Young children are exposed when their parents bring them to eat. These are the facts. The evidence. If the toxins in secondhand smoke were in the water we drink, our water supply would be shut down by the EPA and we would be trucking water in to town. This is the number one public health issue facing Oak Park today. And, we are one of only 19 communities in the state that can do something about it. With this knowledge at hand, we must act to make restaurants abide by the same clean indoor air rules that the rest of us do at our workplaces. And we must do it now.

The time is now because the Village Health Department and its advisory board have been studying this issue for two years and as part of its scheduled work plan.

Who's in favor of a smoking ban? Doctors, nurses, school officials, soccer moms, religious leaders, students, responsible businesses, the Youth Council, WEDNESDAY JOURNAL, to name a few. Almost 3,000 Oak Parkers have signed petitions supporting a smoke free Oak Park. They understand the facts and the health benefit, for our families and our community. This is not a radical idea. Many states and towns in the US are smoke free as are Ireland, Italy and Bhutan to name a few.

Who opposes this? Some restaurants, the Illinois Restaurant Association and Downtown Oak Park. They say it's a freedom of choice issue. They say that restaurants should have the right to expose our families and children to the toxic effects of smoke because its their business and cigarettes are a legal product. We are the town that outlawed the ownership of hand guns (a legal product) because of the risk to health and safety. We are the town that dug a 1,000 foot hole in Barrie Park because of the small, potential risk to health and safety. I am old enough to remember when Thom McCann Shoe stores had x?#34;ray machines so the kids could x-ray their feet. When it was discovered that x-rays caused cancer, these were outlawed. So was asbestos insulation and lead paint. When it comes to an issue of public health verses a business' right to choose, health trumps choice. It is the obligation of responsible public officials to act in the best interest of the public when they have the knowledge and the ability to do so. And our trustees have both.

The Restaurant Association and Downtown Oak Park say we should pass a law at the state level. Yet, the Restaurant Association has opposed every and any legislation that has ever come up in the State of Illinois that would tax, limit or regulate tobacco in any way. If they could have done it, they would have prevented Oak Park from having the right to regulate its own indoor air. In fact, until it became illegal to do so, the Restaurant Association received regular subsidies, and praise from the Philip Morris company. For their aggressive pro?#34;tobacco stance in Illinois, Philip Morris has even sat on the Restaurant Association Advisory Board, and advised Coleen McShane, the director and Oak Park resident. And their tactics are the same in every municipality. They spread fear among the business community that all we be and the restaurants will shot down. They did it in Wilmette, Arlington Heights, Skokie, Evanston and Chicago. And now they are doing it again in Oak Park. They are well funded and do this for a living.

Yet, facts are stubborn things. If anything, smoking bans are good business. In every community in which this has been independently studied?#34;in communities as diverse as New York City, Tempe, Arizona or El Paso, Texas?#34;the economic effect of smoking bans is that revenues go up, not down. In fact, in our own area, Skokie and Wilmette have instituted smoking bans and their revenues have gone up. We have poll data that show that not only do over 80 percent of Oak Parkers want to eat in smoke free restaurants, but people in Oak Park and surrounding communities would be more likely to come here if we were smoke free. So the best evidence is that a smoking ban in Oak Park would enhance business.

I urge the village trustees to evaluate evidence not innuendo, facts not fears. Talk to your counterparts in Skokie and Wilmette. Talk to your own Health Department and its citizen advisory group that has worked for two years on this issue ant collected voluminous data. YOU have all the evidence you could possibly need. The Talmud says, "if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the whole world." Trustees, you have the opportunity to save lives in Oak Park by eliminating all secondhand smoke in our workplaces. And you have the obligation to do so because Oak Park is one of very few communities where this can be done. As for the citizens and fair-minded business owners in Oak Park, please come and help me fill a hole. We will not be a Smoke Free Oak Park without a fight. On Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m., pubic hearings will be held at Village Hall. We need you to come and express your opinions.

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