Smokers, non-smokers praise new B.C. policy

Rule allows separate smoking rooms in bars, restaurants

David Reevely
The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, January 21, 2002

A new policy on smoking in the workplace in British Columbia is finding favour in Ottawa with two unlikely groups: people who are in favour the city's smoking bylaw, and those opposed to it.

Last week B.C.'s labour minister, Graham Bruce, announced rules that will allow smoking rooms in bars and restaurants, provided they're separately ventilated and no worker spends more than 20 per cent of a shift in one.

The policy replaces a previous rule, put forward by the British Columbia Worker's Compensation Board, that banned smoking in enclosed public places. That rule, very similar to the bylaw in Ottawa, had been delayed by court and administrative challenges and was never fully implemented.

"We're hopeful it'll make some of our councillors reconsider (Ottawa's bylaw)," said Barry McKay, general manager of the anti-bylaw Pub and Bar Coalition of Ontario. "This is a way to accommodate smokers, non-smokers, and proprietors so they can all get along, as they used to."

Both in Ontario and British Columbia, the provincial governments can set basic standards for the circumstances under which smoking is permitted. Under Ontario law, smoking in workplaces is banned, but bars and restaurants are exempted.

In both provinces, municipal governments can set rules stricter than the provincial minimums; in B.C., Victoria and Vancouver have smoking bans similar to Ottawa's.

But now, Mr. McKay said, Ottawa City Council "can see that someone else has seen the light, seen reality, and found that a complete ban doesn't work."

Dr. Robert Cushman, the city's chief medical officer, championed the smoking ban, but says the British Columbia policy is a model Ontario should follow.

Dr. Cushman says that even though B.C. has relaxed its policy, the province still has "the best standard" in the country."

"It's a little ahead of its time. The old policy was far ahead of its time, but this is still a very forward-looking policy."

He said B.C.'s abandoned total ban on smoking was better, but British Columbians weren't ready for it.

Mr. McKay said there's a fundamental break between people who believe in "dose-reduction" and "dose-elimination" when it comes to second-hand smoke.

He said British Columbia's new policy takes a realistic approach.

"As a matter of practicality," said Mr. McKay, "they have to know that (dose-elimination) isn't possible. ... The zero-parts-per-trillion, zero-tolerance policy doesn't make any sense. You can go into any factory, an dry-cleaners, any OC Transpo garage and find traces of carcinogens. I don't see why bars and restaurants are going to be any different."

Dr. Cushman said dose-reduction is based on bad science.

"What it does is it creates second-class workers with second-class lungs," he said. "The hospitality industry, in terms of air quality, is worse than a steel mill."

The medical officer said he expected British Columbia's stringent provincial policy would lead to other provinces following suit, because people who work in jurisdictions with less strict rules have better grounds for lawsuits if they get hurt.

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen