Toronto has one of Canada’s worst rates of exposure to second-hand smoke in public places, according to a report released Monday, as the city’s Board of Health threw its support behind tightening rules on lighting up cheap cigarettes in public. Ontario’s health minister said she is open to the board’s recommendations, which include banning smoking in a number of outdoor locations, including sports fields, hospital grounds and restaurant patios. “Population Health in Canada’s Largest Cities,” published by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, ranked the city of Toronto second-worst when it comes to breathing in others’ smoke in public places.
The 2010-11 numbers show that while less than 6 per cent of residents of top-ranking Saskatoon, are exposed to second-hand smoke in public, that percentage is 16.5 in Toronto. Only Ottawa fared worse, at 17.8 per cent. A plan outlined by chief medical officer Dr. David McKeown to extend Toronto’s no-puff zones gained unanimous approval at the health board Monday.
Before the vote, Health Minister Deb Matthews told reporters at Queen’s Park that the recommendations are “something we’re looking at.” “We really do have to look very seriously at how we further protect people from second-hand smoke and actually reduce smoking levels,” she said. “Of course, anything we do would be province-wide,” said Matthews, ruling out any all-out ban on smoking because “we know prohibition doesn’t work.”
McKeown is calling on city council to prohibit smoking in a number of public places. But rather than tackle the handful of bylaws that govern smoking on uncovered patios (a holdover from amalgamation), the health board will ask the province to implement an Ontario-wide ban. “The province has been hearing from a lot of people across Ontario that this is a logical next step in terms of protecting people from second-hand smoke and reducing social exposure for families,” McKeown said.
The health board will also ask the province to ban smoking on hospital grounds. Premier Kathleen Wynne said she thinks it’s a “reasonable question to ask” whether measures should be province-wide. Ottawa (in 2012) and Kingston (in 2003) are among Ontario municipalities that have already banned smoking on restaurant patios, which is prohibited province-wide in Alberta, Nova Scotia and the Yukon. Joe Mihevc, chair of the health board, said he believes broadening smoke-free zones in Toronto could be a tipping point in Ontario.
“Very often, the way change happens at the province is when brave municipalities take stands,” he said. “We’re the biggest beast in the Ontario family of municipalities. When we do it, other municipalities will follow and the province will fall in line.”
But the proposal to ban smoking on patios faces fierce opposition from the restaurant industry, which claims it will erode profits and simply push smokers onto the sidewalk. Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, said current regulations on patios, which allow operators to choose whether to allow smoking, “are adequate and serve the public.” Mayor Rob Ford was also quick to express his discontent.
“I’m not a smoker, I don’t like it,” he told reporters. “But I just don’t like government getting involved and telling people where they can smoke, where they can’t.”