Despite former board's 'roadblocks,' OP will one day be smoke free


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As members of the Oak Park Board of Health, we are disappointed that three members of the Board of Trustees, Diana Carpenter, Ray Johnson and Gus Kostopulos, scuttled every attempt to find a workable solution between our restaurant owners and the majority of the community who favor a smoke-free Oak Park. We wish they had shown more willingness to join Trustees Milstein, Gockel and Pope, who closely considered the facts and genuinely attempted to find common ground between the restaurant owners and the supporters of a smoke-free Oak Park.

At the Jan. 18 meeting, Trustee Pope proposed a detailed economic study of the possible effects of a smoke-free ordinance. Such a study would have helped soothe the fears of our restaurant owners, because objective research overwhelmingly proves that restaurants in smoke-free communities?#34;even communities surrounded by smoking communities?#34;-suffer no economic harm and even occasionally show gains. Only flawed tobacco industry-funded studies show a negative economic effect. Although Trustees Milstein and Gockel supported the motion, Trustees Carpenter, Kostopulos and Johnson voted it down. Trustees Pope, Milstein and Gockel also proposed and voted for other initiatives to pass a smoke-free ordinance while building in safeguards for our restaurant owners, but Trustees Carpenter, Kostopulos and Johnson voted against all of those as well. Finally, when Board of Health Chairperson Lois Halstead requested at the March 7 meeting that the trustees table the smoke-free ordinance because productive discussions between health advocates and restaurant owners were underway, Trustees Carpenter, Kostopulos and Johnson once again turned their back on productive dialog and pushed ahead to vote the ordinance down. Now, there is less incentive for restaurant owners to engage in dialog.

Trustees Carpenter, Kostopulos and Johnson wrapped themselves in the banner of freedom of choice. But reducing the argument for a smoke-free Oak Park to freedom of choice is disingenuous and avoids the real issues and the difficult decisions. You can wave the freedom of choice flag at any issue, from mandatory vaccinations to gun control to traffic lights, and in the end, you still have to do some hard thinking about public good vs. individual desires.

At the Jan. 18 meeting, Trustee Kostopulos also made the remarkable statement that he hadn't seen convincing proof that second-hand smoke was harmful, a statement not even representatives from the Illinois Restaurant Association dared to make. On March 7, Trustee Carpenter said that she could not sleep at night if she knew that she had done anything to make even one business close. This is an unwise and impossible standard to set public policy by. The Board of Health believes that it is possible to boldly support both the public health of our citizens and the economic health of our restaurant owners.

Eventually Oak Park will find a way to be smoke-free and still genuinely support our businesses, although the roadblocks that Trustees Carpenter, Johnson and Kostopulos hastily erected may slow things down. Meanwhile, we hope that the high school students of Oak Park, who put so much heart and effort into arguing for a smoke-free ordinance, won't be discouraged and can see this as a strong beginning of a longer than hoped for process. Three trustees demonstrated a commitment to dialog, a sincere search for solutions and an impartial examination of fact-based research, and three did not. We hope our young people will be more encouraged by the examples of Trustees Pope, Milstein and Gockel than discouraged by the examples of Trustees Carpenter, Kostopulos and Johnson.

Lois Halstead, Garry Cooper, Philip DeChristopher, Kinte Gebevehu, Janet Holden, Matthew Terebessy, student, OPRF

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