When Oak Park finally passes a no smoking ordinance, it will join 135 other municipalities around the country who have already taken this step. The tide of history is with us: People who choose to smoke can no longer light up in the workplace, public buildings, and soon restaurants and bars. It is just a matter of time before no smoking ordinances are the norm throughout our country. This will take place at the municipal level because the business interests that support smoking make state or national legislation impossible. This is a true grassroots movement that is gaining momentum each day.
Before most of us have even had a chance to think about whether we support the idea of a smoking ban in Oak Park, we are already being inundated with misinformation about the economic impact of such a ban by big tobacco and its fellow traveler, the Illinois Restaurant Association.
One of the most powerful tools in the tobacco industry's advocacy kit is false economic claims. For years they have bludgeoned legislators with predictions of economic disaster in the hospitality industry if patrons are no longer allowed to smoke in restaurants and bars. They use this tactic despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The fact is however, that no objective, peer-reviewed study of a smoke-free air law or ordinance is ever found a significant negative impact.
So before these groups get the upper hand in the debate, let's put some facts on the table:
? In 2004, The Centers for Disease Control issued a warning that just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can have a serious and even fatal effect on people who were at risk of heart disease.
? Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in America.
? In February of 2004, the California Department of Health reported that the rate of lung cancer fell nearly 20 percent between 1988 and 1999 in part due to smoke-free legislation. The California lung cancer rate is 10 percent below the rest of the nation and almost 20 percent below Illinois.
? A study in New York City one year after it went smoke-free found no adverse effect on revenue in restaurants and bars due to smoking bans. In fact, employment in New York City's restaurants and bars increased by nearly 10,000 jobs since the implementation of the Smoke-Free Air Act.
? In the 2005 Zagat's survey of America's top restaurants, more than 80 percent of those surveyed think smoking should be banned in restaurants. Twenty-six percent of customers say they would eat out more often if a ban were in effect and only 3 percent say they would dine out less.
? More than 31 percent of the United States population is now covered by smoke-free laws.
There's a lot more good information out there. An excellent synopsis of both good and bad studies about the impact of smoking bans can be found at www.tobaccoscam.ucsf.edu/fake. For a list of phony studies sponsored by the tobacco industry see www.no-smoke.org/ti_econ.html.
For the most part, Oak Park deserves its progressive image. It's one of the reasons many of us choose to live here. However on the issue of smoking in restaurants and bars, we have some catching up to do. In the November elections voters passed or upheld smoke-free workplace laws in communities across the country, including Lincoln, Nebraska; Fargo, North Dakota; Columbus, Ohio and Wausau, Wisconsin. It's time for Oak Park to ban smoking in its restaurants and bars.