With new board barely seated, smoking ban proponents press for fresh vote

? Pope tips toward smoking ban if smoother transition can be built in to plan. Backers oppose

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By BOB SKOLNIK

The battle for a smoke free Oak Park is far from over.  When the Oak Park village board voted 5-2 on March 7 to defeat a proposed ordinance which would have banned smoking in all public buildings and workplaces in Oak Park, both opponents and proponents knew the measure would resurface after April's village elections.

Perhaps they didn't realize, though, just how quickly the measure would be resurrected. But with a new village board taking office this week with three new members, and one to be named later, advocates of a comprehensive clean indoor air ordinance are already pressing their case to the new village board. 

"We have a new village board," said Dr. David Ansell, a spokesman for the Campaign for a Smoke-free Oak Park.  "We're hoping they'll be a breath of fresh air.  We're looking forward to meeting with (Village President) David Pope, (Trustee) Bob Milstein and the newly elected board members."

However, many in the village's business community, especially restaurant owners, remain opposed to a smoking ban. Their argument leading up to their March victory was that individual businesses should be able to decide for themselves whether they wish to run smoke free establishments. Opponents maintain that a smoking ban would cause Oak Park businesses to lose customers to neighboring communities without indoor smoking bans.

Donna Ogdon Chen, executive director of Downtown Oak Park and a leader of ban opponents, estimated that close to 70 percent of restaurants in Oak Park are already smoke free.

"Downtown Oak Park has strongly opposed the smoking ban," said Ogdon Chen. "I'm not surprised that the people in favor want to bring this issue back. I understand that they are very passionate. It's a very emotional issue. There are separate concerns about health and business choice. But we are very concerned about an ordinance that would injure the business community. It's an issue of a level playing field."

Ansell maintains that studies have shown that in communities that have banned smoking in workplaces business revenues have either gone up or stayed the same.

"We don't look at this as an anti-business proposition," said Ansell. "We're interested in doing it in a way that would be a win for public health and a win for business."

Village President David Pope, sworn into office just Monday evening, voted against the smoking ban in March. He said that the main reason he voted against the proposed ban was because it would have taken effect immediately and provided no orderly transition.

Ansell said that proponents of the smoking ban would be willing to consider a phased in ban, but would be opposed to any grandfathering of businesses except for an existing tobacco shop.

"We would be willing to sit down at the table and consider a phase in," said Ansell. "What is unacceptable is grandfathering. The goal is to prevent exposure to second hand smoke." Ansell said that he hoped to have an ordinance in place by the fall.

Pope expects the new board will revisit the issue.

"We are going into a goal setting and strategic planning process," said Pope. "I expect that the smoking ban will come up for discussion. I am interested in moving toward a smoke free Oak Park and am interested in doing it in a responsible way."

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