Reaction to the smoking ban passed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners last week has been mixed among Forest Park officials and restaurant owners, with some hoping to see the village pass its own law to override the ban and others welcoming the idea of smoke-free air in local establishments.
The ban, passed by the Cook County board by a 13-3 vote on March 15, goes into effect one year from its passing, but gives municipalities the option of passing their own ordinances to opt out of the county legislation.
“I’ve always said vote with your dollars. If you don’t enjoy being around cigarette smoke, there’s places to go that are smoke-free and places that aren’t,” said Commissioner Mark Hosty, encouraging the village to carefully weigh its options before adopting the county ban.
Hosty said he would like to see some form of smoking regulation in the village, commenting that “the trend is going toward regulating smoking, and I agree with that.” Still, he feels that the county’s ordinance might be overly burdensome for a village where bars and other traditionally smoke-friendly businesses make up such a large part of the village economy.
Though he acknowledged that some minor tweaks may be necessary, Commissioner Patrick Doolin said he hopes to see the village maintain the county ban.
“Bars and restaurants are in the business of selling alcohol and food, not in the business of providing an environment for people to share their second-hand smoke,” said Doolin.
“Give me a reason it’s not a good idea”if it’s for economic purposes, show me the data. Absent being able to provide that data it’s a simple decision,” he said.
Hosty said the county ordinance, sponsored by County Commissioner Mike Quigley, did not seem to take each village’s individual needs into account. The requirement that smokers be at least 15 feet away from any business before lighting up, he noted, would be impossible to enforce on Madison Street without smokers ending up in the street or in front of someone’s home.
Hosty said he believed a ban would have a noteworthy effect on the village’s economy, commenting that while working the bar at his restaurant, Healy’s Westside, located at 7321 Madison St., he recently observed that 9 of 14 customers had cigarette packs.
“It’s a legal, over-the-counter product that’s distributed and taxed but somehow it’s becoming a pariah,” said Hosty, himself a non-smoker. “The county needs to decide whether they want to promote health or pave roads (with cigarette tax dollars),” he added.
Jim Shaw, owner of Doc Ryan’s, 7432 Madison St., said he saw significant drops in business at a bar he once owned in Florida after a smoking ban was enacted there.
“I’m totally opposed to the smoking ban, but we’re fighting a losing battle,” he said. “I can see that in the next five years the whole country’s going to be non-smoking … but in the meantime I’ll do what I can to fight it,” he said.
Doolin said he believed businesses would recover from any initial drop they experienced due to the ban, noting that since Forest Park does not border another county where smoking would be permitted, the fear of losing customers may be unjustified.
“Nobody’s going to say ‘there’s a smoking ban in Cook County, let’s go to DuPage County,'” he said. “It’s not like east of Harlem is DuPage and west of Harlem is Cook … then we might have to require additional economic studies.”
Shaw, on the other hand, predicted that just as city dwellers currently make the trip to his bar, suburban customers will be willing to travel to escape a smoking ban.
Matt Sullivan, co-owner of O’Sullivan’s Public House, 7244 Madison St., said his feelings on the issue are mixed.
“I have a lot of customers that do come into O’Sullivan’s, and they’re smokers, and there are also families that have kids and they would tend to stay out because of the smoke,” he said.
Commissioner Tim Gillian suggested a gradual phase-in program as one possibility for dealing with the smoking issue. Though he does not smoke, he said, “I recognize that a large portion of our economy in Forest Park is based on the restaurant/bar business and entertainment business.” Gillian also stressed the importance of not creating a situation where “you’ll see 15 people smoking in front of an office building.”
Commissioner Terry Steinbach also said she felt a compromise was the best route.
“I prefer a smoke-free environment; however, I am sensitive to the concerns of residents and local businesses,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Mayor Anthony Calderone declined to comment on the smoking ban, noting that he had not yet read the text of the ordinance.
“The only awareness I have is what I’ve read in the paper, and my experience has taught me that I prefer to read legislation in its entirety before making judgments,” he said.
Despite his doubts, Hosty said that, if legally permissable, he might be willing to “test-drive” the county ban before opting out in order “to see if maybe they’re smarter than we are.”