Compensated for tobacco smoke exposure

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Ottawa woman diagnosed with terminal lung cancer

Lee Greenberg, Aaron Sands and Elaine O'Connor, with files from Joanne Laucius

The Ottawa Citizen

  Thursday, October 10, 2002

In a decision that could set a precedent for hospitality workers across Canada, a non-smoking Ottawa waitress who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer after decades of working in smoky restaurants has been awarded worker's compensation.

The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board ruling in favour of Heather Crowe's claim has "opened a door other people will be able to open," said her lawyer, Phil Hunt.

Ms. Crowe, 57, worked 12 hours a day, six days a week in restaurants, bars and hotels for 40 years, including 15 years at Moe's World Famous Newport Restaurant on Richmond Road.

The customers loved her. And they gave her cancer.

She discovered three lumps in the side of her neck. In March, an X-ray found a tumour the size of her hand in her chest.

Doctors told Ms. Crowe she had less than a year to live. Last night, Ms. Crowe, who is undergoing chemotherapy, said she is "very happy" the ruling will protect other restaurant workers.

She said she never realized she was in danger. "I got really angry. I thought this isn't fair. And now the chemo's brought me to my knees," she said last night. "I'm eating ice crystals and all because of someone else's habit."

It is impossible to put a monetary value on the compensation package, said Mr. Hunt.

A formal decision is still pending. However, her benefits will include compensation for loss of earnings since she was diagnosed last March.

She will also receive a lump sum compensation for permanent impairment, and other compensation to cover personal care, medical expenses and an independent living allowance.

The ruling is a precedent-setting case in the fight to have second-hand smoke declared a workplace hazard, say health officials who advocate smoking by-laws.

Medical experts hailed the decision as a "big step" towards making Ms. Crowe's dying wish come true.

"While we all recognize the dangers of second-hand smoke, and while the bylaws have done a lot to protect the public and workers, this is going to put a clear obligation on employers to ensure that hospitality workplaces are safe," said Dr. Robert Cushman, the city's medical officer of health.

Ms. Crowe hoped her case would move the provincial Ministry of Labour to change its laws. With yesterday's decision, Dr. Cushman said, the government is left with no choice.

Failure to adjust workplace safety regulations in the wake of the ruling "is just going to open up the door for more and more cases," Dr. Cushman said. "I think eventually, the government won't be able to afford not to.

"This is good because now the province is going to have to get back in the game with the bylaws," he said. "My only regret is that our bylaw wasn't in place in time to protect Heather."

Dr. Andrew Pipe, a smoking cessation expert at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, said the ruling speaks strongly to those who are opposed to smoking by-laws. "This woman has been significantly exposed and there has been a predictable consequence," he said. "It's not a matter of social niceties or tolerance for other people's so-called habits. It's a further dramatic example of the degree that second-hand smoke is a health risk."

At Moe's Newport restaurant last night, waitress Valerie Jaques, 52, said the staff were "all ecstatic."

Ms. Crowe's victory is a victory for the industry and Ms. Crowe's cancer could just as easily have been hers, said Ms. Jaques. "If it happened to me I would have stayed home in tears," she said. "She just took the bull by the horns. We're all very proud of her."

Newport owner Moe Atallah said business has improved since the smoking ban was introduced. "If this will make things better for a new generation, if it will make them healthier, then I'm behind it all the way," he said. "I'd like to sleep comfortable at night."

The province's Smoking in the Workplace Act currently protects workers by limiting smoking areas to less than 25 per cent of total floor space.

But health officials say the law offers little protection to workers.

Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said one of the important first steps to change the laws to have second-hand smoke understood as being an occupational hazard.

The next step, Ms. Callard said, is to get the provinces to change their regulations to give hospitality workers the same level of protection from the chemicals in smoke that they give to workers exposed to those chemicals in other forms.

Ms. Crowe will have her story featured in a Health Canada second-hand smoke awareness campaign to be launched today. The campaign includes TV spots and print ads that will appear in transit shelters in 11 major cities, including Ottawa. A Health Canada official, who happened to eat breakfast every morning in the Newport, singled Ms. Crowe out for the campaign.

"What really resonated with people was a real story about a real person living with the impacts of cigarette smoking," said Karen Dufton, director of the office of mass media for Health Canada's tobacco control program. "And from meeting Heather, she's a really incredible person."

She said statistics show 1,000 Canadians die every year as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke, and 300 of those people developed lung cancer.

The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board declined to discuss details of the claim, citing confidentiality clauses. Spokesman Perry Jensen said the agency had approved one additional claim since Ms. Crowe's situation came to light in August.

In August, the agency reported that in the past 10 years, only two claims had been allowed where second-hand smoke was found to be the primary cause of injury.

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen



Globe and Mail

POSTED AT 2:47 PM EDT    Thursday, October 10

Governments must act, non-smokers groups say

Globe and Mail Update

The suffering of a former Ontario waitress awarded workers' compensation because she developed lung cancer could have been avoided if the province had not ignored recommendations to make all workplaces smoke-free, a non-smokers advocacy group says.

Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, told that provincial governments across the country have ignored recommendations to make the province's workplaces 100-per-cent smoke-free for too long.

He said the compensation will provide a push to "provincial governments who have done absolutely nothing on this."

In 1996, the Ontario Medical Association published its position on secondhand smoke. At the time, it recommended that the provincial government ensure that all workplaces were 100 per cent smoke-free.

That study, published in the journal Circulation, found that people regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the home or workplace have a significantly higher risk of heart disease than previously thought.

Then, in 1998, former Ontario health minister Elizabeth Witmer put into place an expert panel. It again recommended that all workplaces be smokefree.

Both studies were ignored by the province, Mr. Perley said.

On Tuesday, Heather Crowe, a 57-year-old former waitress and a non-smoker, received notice of the award from Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. A board spokesman said it was the third case of compensation being offered to an individual who claimed disability from second-hand smoke in the workplace.

Ms. Crowe worked in restaurants across Canada. She will receive compensation for lost wages, medical expenses and other undisclosed needs.

Mr. Perley says the award could be the impetus needed for the Ontario government to make all bars and restaurants across the province smoke-free.

The current laws in Ontario are "patchwork and a mismash," Mr. Perley said.

While he congratulated municipalities such as Waterloo, Ont., for a bylaw in place since January, 2001, which bans smoking in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and bingo halls, he criticized the city of Pickering, which allows restaurants to have 75 per cent space allotted for non-smokers and 25 per cent for smoking.

Cutting off areas of restaurants for smokers is not effective, Mr. Perley said, because often even if there is a designated smoking room the doors are not kept closed or children are not kept out.

Meanwhile Thursday, Nova Scotia Liberals said the Worker's Compensation case in Ontario should convince the eastern province's Progressive Conservative government to ban smoking in all public places.

Danny Graham, Nova Scotia's Liberal Leader, said Thursday that should prompt the province to toughen its new anti-smoking law.

The law, which takes effect in January, will ban smoking in most public places. But lighting up will be allowed in limited forms in bars, restaurants and casinos.

And Alberta's anti-smoking coalition is trying to put pressure on the Tory government into moving forward with tough new tobacco control legislation.

The group believes the anti-tobacco legislation has come off the rails and the government needs to be reminded that this was part of the health reforms proposed in the report submitted to the government by former deputy prime minister Don Mazankowski.


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