I am writing to clarify the position of the Campaign for a Smoke Free Oak Park that was misrepresented in an article on Nov. 16. We have asked for, and Village President David Pope has agreed to facilitate, a meeting with some in the community who oppose a comprehensive clean indoor air act in Oak Park. The purpose of the meeting is to see if there is common ground to be had between the two sides that allow us to protect public health while promoting the businesses that feel at risk.
From a health perspective, there can be no middle ground on the issue of smoking in indoor public places because there are no safe levels of exposure. Exemptions or "grandfathering" of restaurants to allow some to keep smoking sections are unacceptable because workers and patrons will still be at risk. We are eager to discuss ways by which the village can promote the restaurant industry in Oak Park, perhaps by using a portion of the Oak Park sales tax on food and alcohol in restaurants to market the local hospitality industry or to provide grants or loans to restaurants to make their smoke-free restaurants more attractive to new customers. We are also eager to discuss ways to allow the restaurants that feel themselves at risk time to adjust.
The research literature supports the fact that strong clean indoor air laws are revenue neutral or positive for communities that have enacted them. We acknowledge that in Oak Park there will be winners and losers in any public policy decision such as this. Some restaurants, like Café Winberie, saw business rise by 10 percent after they went smoke free this summer. The Abbey, a smoke free wine bar, replaced the Lake Room which had allowed smoking. While we are hopeful that the economic impact in Oak Park will be neutral or positive overall, we are sensitive to the fact that some establishments may experience a decrease in business. We are hopeful that creative public policy solutions will help mitigate the transition for the industry as a whole and look forward to participate in these discussions.
A significant portion of the Oak Park community?#34;over 60 percent in two recent polls?#34;wants a strong clean indoor air ordinance that prohibits smoking in indoor places. Over 3,000 Oak Park residents signed petitions in support of such an ordinance. Those who know the restaurant business in Oak Park believe there are only four or perhaps five restaurants out of the hundreds of restaurants in town that might be at risk should such an ordinance pass.
On behalf of the Campaign for a Smoke Free Oak Park, we look forward to sitting down with our trustees and restaurateurs to develop a uniquely Oak Park solution to the problem of second-hand smoke in our indoor spaces.
David Ansell, M.D., M.P.H.