On Wednesday, NDP leader Todd Hardy’s Smoke-Free Place Act passed second reading through a rare unanimous vote in the Yukon legislature.
Hardy, weakened by recent leukemia treatments in Vancouver, remained seated to present his arguments, sipping milk.
“I have witnessed, firsthand, illnesses caused by smoking,” he said during question period.
Although Yukon has the highest rate of tobacco use in all of Canada, the territory is also the last of the provinces and territories to restrict smoking in enclosed public places and places of employment, said Hardy.
We can’t afford the cost to our public health system, and we can’t afford the loss of life. he argued
“The blunt and tragic reality is that 45,000 Canadians die every single year as a result of smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Hardy.
“They die of cancer. They die of heart attacks and strokes. They die of emphysema and various other diseases.”
The act would see smoking prohibited in any public place or work location — including group-living facilities, bingo halls, bus shelters, and even passenger-carrying work vehicles.
Health Minister Brad Cathers expressed strong support for the bill, under the condition that the public is given the opportunity to come forward with concerns.
Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell sounded the lone note of dissent.
A similar bill brought forward by the former member for Klondike in 2006 went to the recycling bin, due to flaws and poor wording, Mitchell said.
He questioned whether the act, which, among other things, strengthens smoking restrictions in workplaces, should or would apply to home-based businesses.
He questioned whether it was necessary to enact a ban on smoking on outdoor patios, where “natural ventilation” should be sufficient.
He also asked how managers or employees could be reasonably expected to enforce the rules against bull-headed customers, particularly in small, remote establishments.
Giving the example of a young staff person working alone in Penny’s Place or at the gas bar in Stewart Crossing, Mitchell asked: “Does this act put the onus of enforcement on that 17 year old to perhaps ask a 45- or 50-year-old trucker to extinguish his cigarette, for example?”
“What I am afraid I’ve heard is an argument to make the bill a lot weaker and put aside the rights of workers and put aside the rights of people to not be inflicted with an illness,” Hardy replied.
In the end, all 17 MLAs, Mitchell included, agreed to support the act and move it towards third reading.
The Smoke-Free Places Act has a deadline of June 8, 2008, but could come into effect as early as this fall— none too early for anti-smoking lobbyists.
“It’s a public health issue. People should not be exposed to poisons in order to earn a paycheque,” said Canadian Cancer Society lawyer Robert Cunningham.
“A woman who becomes pregnant should not be forced to quit her job if her preferred choice is to protect the health of her baby.”
Cunningham worked with Hardy and his staff to draft the act, which was loosely based on Nova Scotia’s smoke-free legislation.
The lawyer watched the legislative proceedings from the gallery and afterwards met with the press.
Cunningham said the act could be applied to ban smoking in playgrounds, on sports bleachers, and at beaches.
The government could also choose to ban smoking on an entire campus — Yukon College being the prime example.
Smoking in government buildings and vehicles has already been banned in the Yukon.
Dawson City and Whitehorse also have prohibitions on smoking in bars and restaurants.