In the coming weeks, Forest Park will need to make a decision on how to respond to the county’s smoking ban scheduled to take effect here in March.

In all of Cook County, municipalities have the option of enacting their own ordinance that would supercede the county’s effort to ban cigarette smoke from nearly every public gathering place, including bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other traditionally fume-friendly establishments.

Fortunately for the village, the best decision in this case is also the easiest. Do nothing and let the county ordinance clear the air.

There are a number of legitimate assertions to be made for allowing smokers to continue lighting up in bars and restaurants in Forest Park, but none are as compelling as the reasons to decide otherwise.

We expect smokers and business owners alike will make an argument for the rights of individuals. The arguments will go something like this: that Big Brother shouldn’t be making decisions on the personal habits of an individual, nor should the government tell an entrepreneur who they should and should not cater to. We’ll also hear that paying customers will belly up to a bar somewhere else if they can’t have a cigarette with their drink here in Forest Park.

While these points are reasonable, they’re insufficient. A ban on smoking in public places does not prohibit anyone from enjoying a smoke. Smokers can still buy their cigarettes in Forest Park and are entitled to puff away – just not in crowds of unwilling participants forced to inhale their secondhand smoke.

New revenue streams will be discovered when nonsmokers begin turning out for meals and companionship in places they would have avoided on account of the heavy smoke. Business owners can also take solace in the fact that other communities in Cook County and the United States will be following similar ordinances, and that in the coming years we are likely to see a growing number of places enact smoking bans.

At the time of the county’s vote in March of this year, 13 states had adopted similar laws. The county’s ban on smoking is set to take hold on March 15, 2007.

There is no doubt that smoking cigarettes is unhealthy. Every smoker should be aware of the health risks and decide whether to continue the habit based on the facts. For nonsmokers who have already opted not to partake, their right to a healthy lifestyle supercedes the smokers’ right to an unhealthy one. We encourage village commissioners to promote a healthy community.