No badgering or bullying, just pointing out the inevitable

Opinion

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MARK PEYSAKHOVICH, One View

I was appalled (but not surprised) to read the screed from a representative of the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, printed in your April 20 edition, regarding the Oak Park Board of Health's position favoring a smoke-free ordinance.

To the extent that our tax dollars are used to support the budget of the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, I call on the new Oak Park Village Board of Trustees and the State of Illinois to reconsider such grants unless the bureau immediately apologizes. Although every individual is entitled to express his or her opinion, our taxes shouldn't subsidize the salary of someone who publicly insults our volunteers (who are donating their time working on an officially sanctioned citizen commission for the betterment of our village) in the name of the bureau. At the very least, I hope someone on his board of directors advises the writer that when he is representing them, using the phrase "Horse Hockey" in public statements about volunteer leaders is in very poor taste.

The Oak Park Board of Health performed admirably during the smoke-free debate. Too bad they were treated so poorly by the trustees opposed to the smoke-free ordinance! Far from thanking them for their service, some trustees actually questioned the volunteers' independence and trustworthiness when they came forward with their recommendation.

The health board was further insulted when its chair wasn't even allowed to make a presentation at the trustee study session on the smoke-free proposal. And as the public debate unfolded further, it became clear that trustees Carpenter, Johnson, and Kostopulos, empowered by President Trapani?#34;a master of the backroom deal in her own right?#34;clearly didn't want the facts to get in the way of their position.

In fact, trustees Johnson and Kostopulos even questioned whether secondhand smoke was harmful to health! Ironically, they raised this question even as the Oak Park Health Department was running a long, visible and aggressive campaign against this very health hazard. If they believed their own spin, why didn't they endeavor to stop the department from spreading information they thought was untrue?

Amazing, isn't it, that the opponents of clean indoor air can twist the truth in such an ugly way that it actually faults the Board of Health for taking a position clearly in the best interests of public health!

But far from being satisfied with bashing the Board of Health alone, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau letter goes on to insult the vast majority of Oak Parkers?#34;many of us being the customers of the very establishments the bureau purports to represent?#34;who happen to support the idea of going smoke-free. Even SUV owners get tossed into the fray!

In contrast, when I see restaurant owners who oppose the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Oak Park, I assure them that I continue to frequent many of their establishments (although I'd be there more often, drink more, stay longer and spend more money if they were smoke-free!). And when I hear calls that it's time for us to take the business community's suggestion and "exercise our free choice" to stay away en masse from smoking establishments, I advise against it. After all, they are being fed lies by the Illinois Restaurant Association, a tool of Big Tobacco. Instead, I suggest they go and enjoy the food and ask the owner to support the smoke-free ordinance (perhaps, that's the badgering the Bureau decries in its letter).

The fact is, a move toward a smoke-free OP, a smoke-free Illinois and even a smoke-free U.S. is inevitable. Not unlike asbestos bans, seatbelt requirements or fire extinguisher rules, it is a public health and safety imperative whose day has come. Knowing this helps smoke-free advocates handle temporary setbacks without needing to resort to bullying and badgering.

I recently ran into the owner of Papaspiros (a restaurant I frequently enjoy), who was a staunch opponent of the smoke-free campaign. We both agreed that although the business community had previously not been open to seriously considering a smoke-free ordinance, the time has come for both sides to come together to talk in earnest. Smoke-free opponents would be well advised to take their lead from Spiro. He seems to have realized that the smoke-free train is leaving the station. Opponents can continue to stand in the way and get run over. Or they can change their minds, jump in front and call it a parade!

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