I was disappointed to read in WEDNESDAY JOURNAL that the business community of Oak Park, as represented by Downtown Oak Park, opposes the restriction of smoking tobacco in public buildings. I was even more troubled to read that they voted to campaign against efforts to make Oak Park public places smoke free.
According to the article ("Downtown Oak Park to protest smoking ban," December 22), Director Donna Ogdon Chen said that Downtown Oak Park "is not planning on debating the health issues."
But the issue is entirely about health: Smoking in public places forces others to inhale dangerous secondhand smoke. A large amount of evidence now shows people exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and premature death. The National Cancer Institute estimated that up to 65,000 people die annually from secondhand smoke.
As a physician caring for persons with lung disease, I see the effects of tobacco smoke every day. Exposure to secondhand smoke is enough to send a person with asthma to the emergency room. I recently cared for patient in the intensive care unit who required mechanical ventilation because of one exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.
I believe the economic concerns referenced by Downtown Oak Park are unfounded. Many cities, states, and several countries have smoking bans in public places. There has been no credible study to show that these clean indoor air laws are economically harmful. Several studies show either no effect or that business improved after smoking bans. Positive economic effect would occur as people from Oak Park and neighboring communities come to Oak Park restaurants because they know they will be smoke free. I believe people do not go to restaurants to smoke. They go to eat. Fine dining and tobacco smoke do not mix.
According to the article, Downtown Oak Park was concerned about a negative campaign against businesses who opposed this health issue. We do not want to harm Oak Park businesses. To the contrary, we are interested in helping businesses go smoke free and improve their businesses. It seems more likely that a campaign for smoking in public places and exposing customers to these health risks would create the negative image.
I encourage Oak Park businesses to support a policy that promotes health and shows that they care about their customers.