Downtown Oak Park to protest smoking ban

? Smoke-Free group denies threatening to embark on negative ad campaign.

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Downtown Oak Park's board of directors has voted to campaign against a proposal to ban smoking at indoor workplaces, including restaurants, and is hoping to get other local business associations to join the effort.

DTOP's membership includes 20 restaurants, six of which offer smoking sections. But the decision to oppose the ban was not made out of a concern that those restaurants would lose business if smoking were to be banned, said DTOP Director Donna Ogdon Chen.

"If it were just one [restaurant] I believe the board would have taken the same position. They're not taking a position on smoking, but on the rights and the freedom of choice for business owners," she said. "Our board doesn't want government to be in the business of telling them what's best for their business."

DTOP's board has not only taken a position on the issue, Chen said, but will also be actively advocating against the ban. The organization has already approached other districts about taking a stand against the proposal, and is drafting a position statement that will be forwarded to village trustees.

"If this issue goes before the village board, we will certainly have a presence there," Chen said.

The village's health board has already voted to recommend to trustees that they approve the ban. A date when the village board will review that recommendation has not been set.

The local grassroots organization
Smoke-Free Oak Park has been pushing for an indoor smoking ban, arguing that the dangers of secondhand smoke are not successfully mitigated by non-smoking sections.

However, Chen said DTOP is not planning to debate health issues, and is primarily concerned that Oak Park restaurants' inability to make the choice to ban smoking unfairly penalizes them.

"You're not allowing a level playing field for business owners to make the same type of choices that their direct competition gets to make," she said. "They're not going after the tobacco industry. This is just focused on small business owners."

In response to the organization's stance, Chen also said an individual "associated" with Smoke-Free Oak Park said he would ask DTOP business owners to take a position against the ban, and if they refused, he would include them in a "negative ad campaign." She added that the same individual has already approached downtown merchants.

However, Lloyd Klein, a cardiologist and member of Smoke-Free Oak Park, said the group doesn't intend to launch a negative campaign, and also denied that any group member has stated intentions to do so. 

"We're not interested in going out of
our way to harm businesses," he said.

Klein called DTOP's decision "unfortunate" and argued that the ban will not hurt business, noting a recent poll conducted on behalf of the group that found two out of three Oak Parkers to be supportive of the ban, and that smoke-free restaurants would appeal to area diners.

"If chamber of commerce organizations like this one would do the right thing for people who live in Oak Park and for
families and for children instead of fighting against it, they could advertise and market it and they would make money," he said.

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