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Butt out: Smoking bans are sweeping across the North, but are all communities ready for them?

Residents and tourists will soon be able to dine in a smoke-free environment all across Northern Ontario. Bylaws banning smoking in restaurants are already in place in two northwestern communities and many more are under development.

The north's seven district health units are spearheading the smoking bans, and residents are providing support through municipal election ballot questionnaires. Business people are participating with health officials drafting bylaws and reports for municipal councils to consider.

"Any bylaw created must take into consideration the businesses that might be negatively impacted by it," says Debbi Nicholson, president of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. "It will require extensive consultation."

Nicholson encourages municipalities to take a look at bylaws elsewhere that ban smoking.

Terrace Bay and Schreiber township councils were the first in Northern Ontario to pass bylaws banning smoking in restaurants. The bylaws came into effect on May 31, 2000 as a result of a binding question on the November 2000 municipal ballot. Terrace Bay residents voted 70 per cent in favour of banning smoking, and Schreiber voted 54 per cent in favour. Both communities have experienced resistance.

Jimmy Speziale, owner of the Superior Dining Room in Terrace Bay, says his business is down 30 per cent since the bylaw came into effect. Don McArthur, a Schreiber township councillor and owner of a 70-seat restaurant, says the number of customers frequenting his establishment has not changed.

Some business owners in the hospitality sector in Northeastern Ontario are doubtful a smoking ban will be as easily accepted in other parts of the north. It is going to be difficult to ban smoking in Sudbury restaurants because a lot of people smoke here," says Melinda Dozzi, a hotel owner: in Sudbury.

An Ontario health survey conducted in 1996, the most recent survey, showed 32 per cent of the population smoked in Northern Ontario, compared to 25 per cent in southern Ontario. As former president and chair of the Ontario Hotel and Motel Association, Dozzi says she has a lot of empathy for businesses like hers that are coping with the smoking ban situation.

There are 19 municipalities covered by the Northwest Health Unit extending from Kenora to the English River. Not one of these municipalities has a non-smoking bylaw. This has frustrated the health unit's medical officer.

Dr. Peter Sarsfield says he is prepared to push the limits of his authority to pressure the 19 communities into establishing smoke-free bylaws.

"If we don't eliminate (smoking) in the workplace, it is an acceptance of an avoidable workplace risk," Sarsfield says. "The science on second-hand smoke is certain. It's definite."

The Northwest Health Unit has undertaken a postcard campaign to capture public support for a smoking ban in all enclosed public places. More than 6,000 cards have been returned requesting the ban.

Sarsfield says if he does not see action, he will use his authority under the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act.

"I will notify municipalities and all work-places (and tell them) if they are allowing smoking in premises for which they are responsible, then they are allowing a health hazard to exist and that they will be charged with an offence," Sarsfield says. "That's the limit of my authority."

While the return of 6,000 postcards in favour of a smoking ban holds much promise for a smoke-free north, municipalities need to given ample time to prepare for smoking bans through public meetings, says Fort Frances. Mayor Glenn Witherspoon.

John Lechlikner represents the North Bay Chamber of Commerce on an advisory committee that is preparing a smoking ban report for the city council.

"We are looking for something that will work in North Bay," Lechlikner, the co-chair of the committee, says.

Lechlikner says the committee will survey every business in North Bay, conduct a poll of 1,000 residents and hold public forums, before submitting a report with recommendations to city council. Currently in the city, restaurants must designate 20 per cent of the seating area for non-smoking patrons.

About 50 per cent of Sudhury-based restaurants are presently non-smoking, and all restaurants will gradually become 100 per cent smoke-free, with a designated smoking room option, by May 31, 2003. Ina binding ballot item, Timmins voters approved making restaurants smoke-free by May 31, 2003. They voted 59 per cent in favour. Thunder Bay has no restrictions on smoking in public places; while Sault Ste. Marie required all eating establishments to become 50 per cent nonsmoking on Aug. 1, 2000.
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Author:Lynch, Michael
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:743
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