Council should ban smoking

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Council should ban smoking

Editorial from The StarPhoenix
Monday, April 21, 2003

Thanks to council's fecklessness and the province's buck-passing, Saskatoon, which was poised in 1995 to lead Canada by making smokers butt out in public spaces, is now left trying to catch up from the back of the herd.

Mayor Jim Maddin's suggestion that council should tighten smoking regulation or raise it as an issue in this fall's civic election comes long after jurisdictions from Victoria to Calgary to Winnipeg, responding to mounting evidence of harm from second-hand smoke, have enacted stringent controls over public smoking.

Even though the mayor says he "wouldn't be surprised to go to a total ban" and would support the move, his prediction of opposition from bar and restaurant managers is on the mark. From the local Chamber of Commerce to the hotels association, the opinion seems to be that smoking is so integral to the financial health of the food and bar industry that customers, not legislators, should decide the issue.

When Maddin observes -- and properly so -- that smoking in public areas "is a health issue, not an issue of rights and freedoms," he echoes what Saskatoon's former medical officer Clarence Clottey said eight years ago when calling for a comprehensive smoking ban with no exceptions.

Council of the day overruled Clottey and proceeded with a selective smoking bylaw meant to placate some business lobbyists -- a measure that predictably failed a court challenge because the bylaw discriminated against some establishments by exempting others.

"It's time for council, government and health organizations to establish a comprehensive restriction on smoking as the ultimate goal. No middle of the road things. By biting the bullet now, ultimately we will save lives," Clottey said after the 1999 court ruling.

Surely, no one legitimately can argue with the principle that legislators are justified fully in controlling tobacco use on public health grounds but not if they engage in selective lawmaking that distorts the marketplace with loopholes created for a handful of businesses.

If exposure to tobacco smoke is harmful, it makes absolutely no difference whether patrons are forced to ingest slipstream smoke at a bowling alley, a bar or a 39-seat restaurant. Nor does it make a difference to the lungs of employees or other customers at such establishments if the health hazard emanates from smokers seated in a designated area.

Bluntly stated, it's the job of legislators to prevent public harm from what Clottey and countless other medical experts have categorically stated is a health hazard. Public health statistics for Canada indicate that 45,000 deaths a year are attributable to smoking, with nearly 1,600 of those occurring in Saskatchewan.

Yet, senior governments from Ottawa to the provinces are strangely reluctant to tackle the issue head-on as a pressing health issue, opting instead to set regulations on how and to whom tobacco may be sold and how the companies that make these may package and promote their deadly wares.

When it comes to tobacco consumption, however, the federal government, which thinks nothing of impinging on personal freedoms with such draconian measures as a silly and unworkable gun law supposedly to "protect the public," takes a hands-off approach.

And while the province has no trouble enacting laws to protect people from themselves with such measures as mandatory use of seat belts and making retailers remove cigarettes from view lest youngsters be tempted, its courage fails when it comes to telling smokers they have to butt out in public. Instead, the government has mandated that pool halls, bingo parlours, bowling alleys, casinos, restaurants and bars all are required to make at least 60 per cent of their space non-smoking by January 2004.

And, by the way, "a council may, by bylaw, prohibit, control or regulate" smoking in public areas if it so wishes. In other words, let the municipalities take on this stinking issue if they dare.

Good on Maddin for being willing to stick his neck out. Let's hope he finds enough councillors with the gumption to follow his lead. At a time when SARS and the West Nile virus are gaining all the attention, perhaps council can step in to curb a far deadlier public health menace even if senior governments won't.

© Copyright  2003 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)



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