Does Brad Cathers actually expect Yukoners to believe his government is working on anti-smoking legislation?
That’s what the Health minister said following his speech to the Yukon Medical Association last week.
He announced the initiative only after former association president Wayne MacNicol pressed him on the issue.
In the Yukon, the smoking rate is 29 per cent. That’s about 10 per cent higher than it is in the rest of Canada.
Nevertheless, Cathers did not mention smoking during his 15-minute speech at the High Country Inn, where he was speaking to a roomful of doctors.
Instead, he travelled a well-worn Yukon Party path, rehashing the good thing his government did during its first mandate — chiefly, it secured money from Ottawa to improve health-care services.
It took MacNicol raising the fact that smoking is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death to get Cathers to address the issue.
Immediately, Cathers glommed onto secondhand smoke.
“We certainly recognize the issue of smoking and the damage that is caused by secondhand smoke, and this is an area where we will need more work together in years to come,” he said.
“We don’t have any disagreement in the recognition that there is a need to move, as a society, from coast to coast, towards restricting secondhand smoke impacts to the public.”
The Yukon government funds smoking education programs, and anti-smoking legislation is something the Yukon Party “will continue to have some discussions” about, he said.
But here’s the rub.
“One of the concerns with putting in place territory-wide legislation is the fact that many of the smaller municipalities and chambers of commerce are very concerned about the impact it would have on the economies of their communities, in cases where there may be one restaurant, one coffee place, etcetera, where people congregate and there is a high rate of smoking among the clientele.”
So pan-Yukon legislation is not going to happen.
And smoking is not a priority for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, which has Craig Tuton as its chair — a Whitehorse hotelier and Yukon Party campaign manager who was appointed to the board at the outset of its first mandate.
The political agenda is clear.
But it’s out of synch with the rest of the nation.
Lawsuits against workers’ compensation boards have prompted six Canadian provinces to enact outright bans against smoking in public places.
And workers’ compensation boards in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have banned smoking in all enclosed business areas, including bars.
“It’s bigger than a WCB issue,” compensation board president Valerie Royle said Monday, three days after omitting the smoking issue from her presentation to the medical association.
“We see it as a public-health issue,” said Royle, who takes direction from Tuton’s board.
Yet Royle noted that smokers generally take longer to recover from injury — any injury, even a sprained ankle.
Non-smoking rules in health and safety regs would be tough to enforce.
“It’s a broad issue.
“Is it our number one priority to deal with right now? No, it isn’t.”
The WCB sees smoking as a public health issue. The Yukon government sees it as a municipal issue.
The municipalities aren’t interested, or weren’t when the medical association wrote them about the issue earlier this year.
“Some of them sent polite replies, some of them didn’t bother to reply and some of them were downright nasty,” said MacNicol.
“This is not about bylaw police. It’s about making smoking socially unacceptable.”
Not all the news is bad. The number of Yukon smokers has declined from 40 per cent in 1994, said MacNicol.
“Baby steps are better than no steps,” he said.
Still, successive governments have done nothing.
The Yukon Party’s return to office gave MacNicol hope.
“It’s a five-year term as well, so maybe they will have more confidence in being able to initiate this,” he said.
“When governments come into power, the first two years is trying to figure out what they can do and learn the business, and then one year of doing business and then one year of trying to figure out how they’re going to get elected.
“We’re way ahead of the game right now, and I think the minister of Health is very anxious, as well, to try and make some changes in these areas.”
Alright, but don’t hold your breath.
It will probably take a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from a cancer-ridden smoker to provoke action on this issue.
Until then, the Yukon Party will just blow smoke. (GM)