Yukoners learning to butt out

Watson Lake hotel manger Simon Sheppard knows how hard it is to quit smoking. Sheppard was a “very heavy smoker” until four years ago…

Watson Lake hotel manger Simon Sheppard knows how hard it is to quit smoking.

Sheppard was a “very heavy smoker” until four years ago when four of his close friends died of smoking-related diseases.

The last died of emphysema.

“I watched this man die and it was a horrible thing to see. Horrible.”

“His death basically motivated me to quit smoking.”

To help his employees kick the habit, Sheppard has started an incredible bonus incentive program.

If staff of the Belvedere and Gateway hotels can go 90 days without smoking, they’ll receive a $500 bonus.

The incentive program will also help employees prepare for the territorial ban on smoking in public places.

The Smoke-free Places Act could come into force as early as June 1, 2008, if approved by the legislature.

 “I hope it will wake up other employers as well to put a similar incentive program for their employees,” said Sheppard.

“I personally believe that the law is inevitable, so we might as well get a head start.”

Neil Collishaw, the research director for Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada applauds Sheppard’s initiative.

Collishaw arrived Friday to attend a number of community consultations throughout the territory about the proposed legislation.

Whitehorse already has a municipal smoke-free policy so the most substantial change will be felt in Yukon communities.

On Saturday he travelled to Watson Lake and on Sunday he was in Teslin.

“It’s quite wonderful that the territory has chosen to do this consulting,” said Collishaw on Monday.

“All views were expressed and everyone seemed happy to speak up.”

While banning public smoking is good for public health, it’s good for business too, Collishaw tells those that attend the meetings.

California, which has had smoke-free laws in restaurants since 1995, has seen a huge increase in restaurant revenues.

“Businesses shouldn’t be asked to go smoke-free voluntarily; that would make smoking into a competitive advantage,” he says.

“It should be a level playing field.”

Many smokers feel that the act is an unjustified imposition, said Collishaw.

During one meeting, a woman who was against the act was surprised to find that a friend of hers was an asthmatic and would attend more volunteer events if there were no smoking.

“By the end of the consultation I think (the smoker) had changed her mind,” he said.

Collishaw worked for the World Health Organization in Geneva, in charge of the tobacco health program.

In 2000, he joined Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, a charitable national health organization.

Two years later he met Heather Crowe.

Crowe had never smoked a cigarette in her life, but after 40 years working as a waitress in smoke-filled restaurants she was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

With Crowe, Collishaw travelled throughout Canada providing information on secondhand smoke and promoting anti-smoking legislation.

Unfortunately Crowe never received an invitation to visit the Yukon — the last territory or province not to have any sort of anti-smoking legislation.

Crowe passed away in May, 2006.

That same month, Quebec passed laws banning smoking in all workplaces.

“Smoking was such a large part of Quebec’s culture, we thought there’d be a lot more opposition,” said Collishaw.

“If Quebec can do it, the Yukon can too.”

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada are working alongside the Canadian Cancer Society to ensure that information gets out to Yukon communities.

Collishaw was in Marsh Lake on Monday and will be going to Carcross on Thursday, Old Crow on Friday and Tagish on Saturday.

The committee wraps up with a final public consultation in Whitehorse on Tuesday.