All Yukon communities want to go smoke-free except three: Mayo, Faro and Watson Lake.
Last weekend, at the Association of Yukon Communities’ annual general meeting in Dawson City, communities passed a resolution to support the Yukon’s Smoke-Free Places Act. That legislation recently passed second reading in the legislature.
If implemented, the law would prohibit smoking in public places throughout the territory.
But Faro, Watson Lake and Mayo are not willing to give up their cigarettes without a fight.
At a public meeting in Faro, smokers and non-smokers opposed the territorial legislation, saying they are legislated to death, said mayor Michelle Vainio.
“You can’t dispute the fact of the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke, there’s no debate … but what this issue was about, and I knew it hit a lot of people, was: ‘Do they want this legislation to come in?’” said Vainio Wednesday during an interview.
“Personally I have different thoughts on it, but collectively as the community they said, ‘We want you to vote no.’”
So Vainio opposed the resolution, saying she would not support the association’s attempts to lobby the Yukon Party into passing the no-smoking law.
The Faro Studio Hotel has attempted to go smoke-free by limiting smoking to the hotel bar.
Vainio congratulates that business for its attempt to make Faro a healthier place. But she still has trouble going against her constituency and voting for something they don’t want.
“How am I supposed to tell our elders, who have been smoking for 50 years, that they aren’t allowed to smoke anymore?” she asked community leaders at the conference.
“A lot of these people… they’ve lost their ability to do a lot of physical stuff, they may not be working anymore,” said Vainio. “They say, ‘Don’t take my cigarettes too. I’ve had this right for so long and now you’re going to tell me I can’t smoke.’
“So that is kind of my fear, that there might be some problems along that.”
This will be a territorial legislation so it won’t be up to Faro bylaw personnel to police the town and make sure nobody is smoking in public, said Vainio.
“It will be up to the RCMP to do that and I don’t want to create dissention between the RCMP and our community,” she said.
“There’s a delicate balance there and I want the RCMP to be a positive force in the community.”
This is particularly important among Faro’s youth who smoke at an alarming rate, said Vainio.
Business owners can’t police their own establishments, said Vainio.
“Two of the business owners smoke in their own businesses,” she said.
When challenged with the fact that BC passed the same legislation without much fanfare, she said: “Has anyone gone into the small communities to see if it’s working. It might have passed but they still might be smoking out in those little communities.
“I just think that the Yukon is the last frontier and there’s a reason why we don’t have the no-smoking legislation, I think it’s the hardest one to implement.”