Letter to the Editor

Let’s show the political courage to protect our children Open Letter to Premier Dennis Fentie: I am writing to urge your government to…

Let’s show the political courage to protect

our children

Open Letter to Premier Dennis Fentie:

I am writing to urge your government to support legislation to help protect Yukon children from exposure to secondhand smoke in private vehicles.

There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

It can cause lung cancer and heart disease in non-smoking adults, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, childhood cancers, asthma, and respiratory problems in children.

Secondhand smoke releases some 4,000 chemicals as smoke that is directly inhaled, but in even greater quantity!

Approximately 50 of these chemicals (carcinogens) cause cancer.

Secondhand smoke contains:

• Three times more tar, which gums up lungs and breathing passages.

• Five times more carbon monoxide, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood.

• Ten times more benzene, which is a poison used in insecticides.

• And 40 times more ammonia, which is commonly used in household cleaners.

A recent Environics Poll, commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society, found that 82 per cent of Canadians support a ban on smoking in vehicles carrying children under 18.

To me, this demonstrates that Canadians in general are ready for action to protect the health of children.

A total of 2,032 Canadians took part in the poll. It is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The Yukon could be the second jurisdiction in Canada to adopt this measure that protects the health of children. (Nova Scotia being the first in November 2007.) I am asking you to support a ban on smoking in cars carrying children under 16 years of age.

In addition to the legislation adopted in Nova Scotia, laws banning smoking in vehicles with children have been passed in California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Bangor (Maine), Keyport (New Jersey), Rockland County (New York), and the Australian states of South Australia and Tasmania. A number of other states in the US are in the final processes of enacting this type of legislation.

Private members bills tabled aimed at banning smoking in vehicles carrying children have been introduced in the past couple of months in British Columbia and Ontario by members of different political stripes.

The national statistics indicating the excessively high smoking rates among people living in the North is further evidence that we must do all that we can to protect our citizens, especially our children, from the unnecessary health risks of secondhand smoke.

I believe that Yukoners are expanding their definition of what is not acceptable and smoking in a vehicle with children is no longer acceptable.

I also believe that it is incumbent upon us as elected representatives to do all that is necessary to protect the health of children.

I was able to move a motion in the Yukon legislative assembly on Monday, December 10, that the House urges the Yukon Party government to include a section within the forthcoming anti-smoking legislation that prohibits smoking in a motor vehicle occupied by minors.

The recommendations of the 2007 Select Committee on Anti-Smoking Legislation to the legislature did not include a ban on smoking in vehicles occupied by minors because the committee could not come to a unanimous agreement.

Presently in the Yukon children travelling in motor vehicles are legally being exposed to very concentrated levels of secondhand smoke.

I encourage your government to include a prohibition provision on smoking in vehicles occupied by children within the forthcoming smoke-free-places legislation and include the following considerations:

• Seek public consultation on this specific issue and if supported implement a comprehensive public education campaign to increase awareness of the hazards to children, and the benefits of a smoke-free environment.

• Permit enforcement agencies to issue written warnings for an initial period of time.

• When the Yukon statute is finally enforced, increase the penalty for repeat offenders.

Behaviour controlled in motor vehicles includes no open alcohol, no cellphones (in some jurisdictions), mandatory seat belt use and car seats. These are just a few examples of laws pertaining to the civil liberties in private vehicles.

I believe that once leaders across this country and our territory reflect on the facts with regard to the prohibition of smoking in vehicles occupied by children that it will be just a matter of time before we legislate this because it’s the right thing to do.

No one has the right to poison children and smoking in a motor vehicle occupied by children is in effect poisoning the children.

In its 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations ratified a resolution of which a section stated:

“Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” 

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 20 November 1959 in Principle 2 states:

“The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.

“In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.”

We as Yukoners owe it to each and every child to provide the best that we can give.

Children have no choice but to breath secondhand smoke in a car and are not in a position to protect themselves, so if the conscience of any adult won’t stop them from harming a child with their secondhand smoke in a motor vehicle, then maybe the prospect of a $200 fine will help them decide to butt out before they get in a car.

The motto could be “Butt out before you ask a child to buckle up!”

We are the last jurisdiction to enact smoke-free-places legislation, let’s not be last to protect children from the poisons of secondhand smoke in motor vehicles.

Darius Elias, Liberal MLA

Vuntut Gwitchin

Loppet ‘endured’

with pleasure

Like the other 150 skiers registered for last Saturday’s epic annual cross-country ski race, I was disappointed the morning of the loppet, when the thermometer read minus 40 and they announced on the radio that the loppet would be cancelled.

But wait! The chief of race, John Streicker, continued to say the event was still on, that the actual 20-kilometre and 10-kilometre races would not happen, but that they were going to host a shinny game, groom the ski trails for the diehards, run arts and crafts and games in the centre and still hand out the prizes (including the free Air North flight, which my friend won).

So a bunch of us headed out anyway and in a way I’m glad I didn’t have to race (no stomach butterflies, no spandex, no wax testing, no brief period of cutthroat attitude towards my peers).

Instead, they adapted, and made a good thing out of a bad thing. There were at least 70 or 80 people there when I showed up, and everybody was having a good time.

This year, they should have renamed it the Marsh Lake Celebration of Minus 40. We proved that the weather doesn’t hold us back from anything.

Despite not refunding fees, I know people also really appreciated that you raffled out all the prizes to race entrants in the end anyway.

So, thanks to all the organizers for pulling that off.

Next year, maybe I will just show up for the party, and skip the race. (Yeah, right.)

Katharine Sandiford

Via e-mail