Smoke-free workplaces in Northwest Ontario

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Northwestern Ontario split over smoking ban


The Globe and Mail, Thursday, January 2, 2003 – Print Edition, Page A7

For Wayne Wdowiak, owner-manager of Thunder Bay's Glory Days Sports Bar, yesterday was hardly glorious.

That's because he is one of those, in some quarters of the hospitality industry, vigorously opposed to the widespread ban on smoking in Northwestern Ontario workplaces that began on New Year's Day.

"It's like martial law," said Mr. Wdowiak, referring the smoking prohibition imposed by the region's medical officer of health.

"I think it will have a real negative effect on my business because I'd say at least 70 per cent of my customers smoke. They're not too pleased. People who go to a bar know it's going to be smoky. If you don't like smoke, don't go."

But at the Waterside, a restaurant in Kenora's Best Western Hotel, manager Angela Hall said the business had adjusted to pressure against smoking a year ago in almost all the hotel's public places, including the restaurant. That left only the lounge.

The Fort Frances Times reported that town businesses are split. Some are happily complying with the no-smoking policy; others are digging in their heels. "If nobody stands up against this guy, what's going to be next? Caffeine? Sugar?" the paper quoted the owner of the Bonnie Blue restaurant, Barb Stainke, as saying.

Ms. Stainke was referring to Peter Sarsfield, the medical officer of health who imposed the workplace smoking ban, which includes bingo halls, bowling alleys, bars and restaurants.



Smoking debate stoked by new workplace ban in northwest Ontario


The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, January 1, 2003 – Print Edition, Page A6

Enraged smokers have called him an antismoking "fascist." But Pete Sarsfield says he simply is doing a necessary job that politicians "wimped out" of doing.

Beginning today, there is a ban on smoking in Northwestern Ontario workplaces, ordered by Dr. Sarsfield, the medical officer of health.

"This is not so much an antismoking campaign or crusade, as it's been called," said Dr. Sarsfield in Kenora. "It's against second-hand smoke. . . . I will fight against you having the right to smoke into someone else's lungs."

In Ontario, medical officers of health typically aim their sights at specific hazards, such as asbestos-lined offices, dirty diners and mould growing in schools. But Dr. Sarsfield said that medical officers are obliged to use their office against a more pervasive public-health threat -- second-hand smoke.

His decree goes further than the bylaws politicians put in place elsewhere in Ontario. In his region, smoking is banned in all workplaces, including bingo halls, bowling alleys, bars and restaurants.

However, some question the ban's legitimacy, because Dr. Sarsfield is an unelected official.

"A lot of us feel he has overstepped his bounds. Something of this magnitude should be coming down in a political sense," said Marc Bissonnette, owner of the Hap's On The Harbourfront restaurant in Kenora. "I don't feel I have to comply."

A six-member public-health team is prepared to enforce the ban by paying visits to bars -- with police, if necessary. Fines are hefty. Bar and restaurant owners could pay up to $5,000 for each day they allow patrons to smoke.

Dr. Sarsfield said his stand has brought many compliments, but he acknowledged that he is unpopular with some people. At Kenora intersections, he said, drivers have given him the finger and shouted that they want to run him down.

"You're what I fought against in Europe," a smoker told him.

His boss, the province's Chief Medical Officer, told Dr. Sarsfield that while he sees his point, health-protection laws should not be used to set social policy.

But the Kenora doctor is sticking to his guns, saying public-health laws empower -- and oblige -- him to issue the ban.

Dr. Sarsfield argued that he had no choice, given that a clear and present danger persisted amid political buck-passing and vote-seeking.

The area falling under his responsibility incorporates 19 cities dispersed across a huge area in westernmost Ontario.

For years he "badgered" municipal politicians for tough antismoking bylaws, Dr. Sarsfield said. But little happened.

He complained that the province "wimped out" long ago by allowing municipal governments to decide antismoking measures. He said that most politicians in Northwestern Ontario are unwilling to pass bylaws that could hurt businesses or cost votes.

Nearly everyone in the area expects that fines will be vigorously appealed; the courts likely will have to decide whether a medical officer of health can ban workplace smoking.

Dr. Sarsfield said bans similar to his should exist across Canada and that higher levels of government should do more.

"I think the provincial government, the Ministry of Health, Workers Compensation and the Ministry of Labour are all being negligent in not taking action," Dr. Sarsfield said, adding that because it took him so long to issue the ban, "I could be accused of being negligent, too."



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