Urbana public forum discusses smoking

By Jonathan Jacobson

Glenn Rasmussen sat in the back row, chewing on a tattered, unlit cigar in the Pollard Auditorium on Thursday evening, watching a discussion about smoke-free legislation in Urbana.

The Urbana City Council and Mayor Laurel Prussing hosted a public forum at the auditorium, 506 W. Park St., about whether or not the city should adopt a stronger smoke-free ordinance.

“(Smoking) is a choice that I make,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t go out of my way to offend people.”

Ed Salfelder agreed in his speech.

“America allows us freedom,” Salfelder said. “America stands for choice and allows businesses to make decisions.”

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All of the planned speakers at the forum, however, defended the legislation from health, political and business perspectives.

“The risks of smoking have been known for 20 years,” said Dr. Robert Scully of the Health Alliance during his speech.

Scully, who also presented at a similar forum in Champaign in 2005, passionately spoke about the dangers of second-hand smoke. He was joined by business owners in the area who have already made their restaurants smoke-free.

“We couldn’t control the second-hand smoke,” said John Schmitt, owner of Ned Kelly’s Steakhouse.

After Ned Kelly’s became smoke-free, Schmitt said they lost some customers, but gained others.

Paul Wirth, who owns the Iron Post in Urbana, said the loss of customers he would incur from a smoking ban would far outweigh any gain.

“As someone who has been in business a long time and who knows the pulse of Urbana,” Wirth said, “I’d ask you not to pass this smoking restriction.”

However, many of the speakers were concerned about the health of employees and entertainers in Urbana’s restaurants and bars.

“No one should have to choose between making a living and their health,” said Rachel Berkson, senior in Education.