Doctors push incumbent Yukon Party on smoking

Unexpectedly, the bass started to thump. About 30 doctors gathered at the Yukon Medical Association’s annual general meeting moved to the…

Unexpectedly, the bass started to thump.

About 30 doctors gathered at the Yukon Medical Association’s annual general meeting moved to the front of the High Country Inn’s conference room and started to boogie.

“Get funky!” cried Lisa Ross, an emergency room nurse who dropped in on Friday’s conference to lead the territory’s physicians through a mid-afternoon aerobics session.

The dance party ended as abruptly as it began, but nobody seemed to be huffing, puffing or ducking outside for a cigarette.

By coincidence, a non-smoking motion came up for discussion.

“We’ve been going through this every single year, and it’s the same old, same old,” said former association president Wayne MacNicol, who seconded the motion urging the Yukon government and the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board to ban smoking in public and work places throughout the territory.

“I was disappointed to find out that the workers’ compensation health and safety board will not be introducing any regulation with respects to smoking,” said MacNicol.

“We know that we live on the frontier here, and people are expected to smoke and drink and do things that are bad for them, and that shows up in our statistics.”

Around 28 per cent of Yukoners smoke, compared to about 20 per cent of Canadians and around 12 per cent of people in California, he said.

“We’re lagging behind, and there are a number of reasons for that.

“We’re fiercely independent people up here, and people don’t like being legislated.”

The non-smoking motion received unanimous support from the association membership.

But it has been lobbing similar motions to successive governments since 1994, with little success, said MacNicol.

With the Yukon Party returned to power, the government has a rare opportunity to legislate against smoking, he said.

“Maybe they will have more confidence in being able to initiate this.”

But smoking was conspicuously absent from Health Minister Brad Cathers’ speech to the assembled health workers.

Instead, Cathers rehashed the Yukon Party’s success in obtaining funding from Ottawa for health services.

He also assured the association that a proposed collaborative primary health-care facility funded by government would not jeopardize workloads for doctors charging fee-for-service rates at private clinics.

“Our intention is enhancing the health-care system, not creating problems,” he said.

“The government has been slow to move” on smoking, said MacNicol.

“We want our government to put through stronger legislation with respect to smoking.”

Territory-wide legislation is complicated, but the government is working on it, replied Cathers.

“Many of the smaller municipalities and chambers of commerce are very concerned about the impact that 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.”

Municipal governments can pass anti-smoking bylaws, he added.

Currently, smoking is illegal in most public and work places in Whitehorse and Dawson City, although Dawson bars still allow cigarettes, said Cathers.