Time has come for Yukon smoking ban, say groups

Cigarettes come in packs. And now, so do groups pushing the Yukon Party government to support a new Smoke-free Places Act and a territory-wide…

Cigarettes come in packs.

And now, so do groups pushing the Yukon Party government to support a new Smoke-free Places Act and a territory-wide smoking ban.

Drafted by the New Democrats and released Wednesday, the act could bring the territory in line with the rest of Canada when it comes to second-hand smoke, say its supporters.

“This is an act that will help save lives,” said NDP leader Todd Hardy Wednesday.

“It’s a bill that will help protect workers and the general public from one of the most serious health risks of all,” said Hardy.

“For years, a number of different organizations have recognized the need for this kind of legislation in the territory. Every Canadian province and territory now has some kind of legislation to prohibit smoking in designated areas.

“I say every province and territory but one. The last holdout is the Yukon territory,” he said.

Representatives from the Association of Yukon Communities, the Yukon branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Yukon Registered Nurses Association, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and even Liberal MLA Darius Elias joined Hardy at a release for the legislation.

The nine-page Smoke-free Places Act Hardy proudly clutched was drafted by the NDP with help from members of the Canadian Cancer Association.

It is based on legislation in Nova Scotia, as well as anti-smoking bills from Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Manitoba, he said.

If passed, the act would make it illegal to smoke in enclosed places used by the public — including government buildings, restaurants, bars, bingo halls, jails, child-care facilities, schools, libraries, pool halls, recreational facilities (where physical recreation is the primary activity), meeting halls, retail stores and markets, laundromats and commercial vehicles carrying more than one person.

It would also make it illegal for a person to smoke within a prescribed distance from a doorway, window or air intake, on outdoor patios at restaurants and bars, or on school grounds.

Exceptions are made for private residences or vehicles that double as businesses.

A social worker has the right under the proposed act to request someone not smoke in another person’s presence — even if it is in a private residence or vehicle.

Designated smoking rooms in hotels are also exempt.

Hardy plans to table the new act on May 9 for debate in the legislature.

He’s pushing for the Liberals and Yukon Party to support the bill and is open to amendments and changes that could make it better, he said.

“I’ll be the first to applaud the premier and the leader of the official opposition if they agree to set aside partisan differences to get this life-saving legislation into effect no later than June 1, 2008,” he said.

With nearly 30 per cent of Yukoners addicted to tobacco, the territory huge tobacco problem, said NDP health critic John Edzerza.

But the most shocking statistic is among First Nations young girls: 61 per cent of them between the ages of 15 and 17 are smokers, he said.

“That’s four times the national average for that age group,” said Edzerza. “It’s almost unbelievable.”

Smoking awareness campaigns can only go so far to help the situation, he said.

And the sentiment is echoed by NDP MLA Steve Cardiff.

“I don’t believe that I have a right to let my addiction put other people’s health at risk,” said Cardiff, who is a smoker.

Every successive restriction on where he can smoke has made it easier to cut back on the amount of cigarettes he consumes, he said.

Cardiff attacked the Yukon Party government’s position that municipalities should enact smoking bans, and that a territory-wide ban could hurt businesses.

“Whenever this type of legislation is proposed, inevitably there are concerns raised about the impact on business,” said Cardiff.

“The reality is, if you look across the country, that they really don’t have a significant, negative effect on the bottom line of business.”

The Yukon Registered Nurses Association is supporting the new bill.

People who work in the service industries are being diagnosed with lung cancer and emphysema as a result of their exposure to second-hand smoke, said president Paula Bilton.

And smokers on limited incomes often choose to buy cigarettes instead of feeding their families, she said.

“The time has come” for a territory-wide ban, said Bilton.

Association of Yukon Communities Vice-president and Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway agreed.

“What we have here is a health issue,” said Buckway. “I think the support is mounting and it will be harder and harder to ignore these groups.”

The association is holding a general meeting in May that will likely adopt a push from Dawson’s municipal council to call on the Yukon government to adopt a territory-wide ban, said Buckway.

“At one time, seatbelts were something that weren’t used in the Yukon, and if you can imagine making that a municipal issue, it doesn’t work,” she said. “Territory-wide legislation is definitely the answer.”

Small municipalities don’t have the resources to enforce bans they create, she added.

It’s time to bring the Yukon in line with the rest of Canada, said Hardy, who is recovering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia but who started pushing for a ban long before being diagnosed.

“Why is it acceptable for any Yukoner to be exposed unnecessarily to the effects of a habit that kills 45,000 Canadians every year? Why is it acceptable for the Yukon government not to do whatever it can to combat what is widely recognized as the leading preventable cause of death in this country,” he asked.

“The answer, of course, is it’s not acceptable.”