I’ve never asked a smoker to put out a cigarette, or refrain from lighting up. I’ll even let them smoke in my car, provided they exhale out the window. In my private detective job, I welcome a witness who smokes, because every time they light a fresh one, I know they’re going to talk a little longer. So, I’m not exactly a crusader against smoking. But lately I’ve been finding the smoke levels intolerable in our local establishments. After a recent night out, my clothes were still blowing smoke rings after I took them off. It’s time we go smoke-free in Forest Park.

A tavern employee told me this would create a hardship for some of the bars and restaurants: especially those that don’t have the space for an outside smoking area. He estimated that almost half the bar crowd lights up and forcing them onto the street would create a public nuisance and leave behind litter. There’s also a fear that smokers will flee Forest Park to more tolerable environments.

I believe banning smoking is a risk we have to take, though, because the health risk from secondhand smoke is too great. It kills about 50,000 non-smoking Americans a year. Health, though, isn’t my main concern ” it’s ambience I’m after. Having experienced the joys of clean indoor air in other cities makes me wish we had it here. And I don’t even have long hair.

Five years ago, we were in San Francisco. I saw with my own eyes people drinking and eating, without lighting up. In fact, I could see them because they weren’t lighting up. This year we luxuriated in the smoke-free pubs of Ireland. If this island nation, where a puff and a pint have been sacred for centuries, can shoo the smokers outside than it’s feasible here in Forest Park.

After all, smokers are the most adaptable citizens in our society. Stand in the sub-zero outside an office building? Sure. Pay five dollars a pack? No problem. Cigarettes could cost $20 a pack (fifty cents actual cost, 19.50 in taxes) and smokers would still buy them by the carton.

Sure, if we went smoke-free, we might lose some tobacco-craving customers. But I believe they would be replaced by a contingent that won’t set foot in Forest Park bars and restaurants. I have friends and relatives who simply can’t abide smoking. They hunger for our food, drinks and musical entertainment but don’t think it’s worth it for a few days of wheezing.

We could give our local establishments a year to create outside smoking areas. They could install those round receptacles they have in Ireland, with those little slots for butts. I know the bars try to fight the problem with smoke eaters and air purifiers but it’s not enough. I listened to a radio show from one of our bars that was equipped with state of the art purifiers and the host wondered aloud, “Does everyone here have a pack of Luckys?”

If we’re concerned about a drop in business, consider that New York City’s sales receipts went up eight percent after smoking was banned.

Let’s make this our last foggy Christmas Eve (indoors) in Forest Park.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.