Photo: Andreas Larsson

Though his own establishment-Poor Phil’s Bar-Grill in Oak Park-is smoke free, Dennis Murphy opposes any legislated smoking bans.

For 20 years, Poor Phil’s Bar-Grill in Oak Park was a smoker-friendly institution. While families enjoyed dinner in the nonsmoking grill, smokers could puff away in the bar area. But one Tuesday in May, after helping lead the fight against the town’s proposed smoking ban, the bar’s outspoken owner, Dennis Murphy, unexpectedly took his entire business cigarette free.

“I saw a change in Oak Park over the years,” Murphy explains. “People were thinking about their children and wanting smoke free.”

Two months earlier, Oak Park’s board of trustees had voted down a proposed smoking ban, but the issue is expected to resurface this fall. If it succeeds, Oak Park would be the third Illinois town to succeed in implementing a ban on smoking in all public indoor spaces. The first to pass such a measure was Skokie in 2003, but its measure exempts bars un-attached to restaurants. Only Wilmette and Highland Park have banned smoking in bars, restaurants, and all other public indoor spaces.

If 28th Ward alderman Ed Smith has his way, Chicago could be the next city on this roster. For three years, the West Side alderman, who chairs the city’s health committee, has been working with the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago and the Smoke-Free Chicago coalition on a nonsmoking ordinance. Currently, Chicago restaurants with 40 seats or more are required to designate 25 percent of their seating as nonsmoking. If Smith’s ordinance passes, smoking indoors would be strictly verboten throughout the city.

Chicago has the distinction of being the nation’s largest city without a smoke-free ordinance (Los Angeles set the precedent in 1998, and New York and Boston followed in 2003). But locally the cause faces a tough lobbying opponent in the 2,500-member-strong Illinois Restaurant Association.

Already, 65 percent of the city’s restaurants have gone smoke free voluntarily, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. Nationally, one in four people currently lives in a city or state where smoking is banned in restaurants, auditoriums, transit hubs, and other public places. And the movement is gaining momentum in other states, including Colorado and Ohio.

But that means very little to Dennis Murphy, who still contends that this is one issue politicians shouldn’t touch. “Just as I made my choice,” he says, “I feel that all restaurant operators should have that choice.”