Fans of lighting up in public areas may be about to see their plans go up in smoke.
The Toronto Board of Health has recommended the city adopt a more wide-reaching set of public smoking prohibitions, a move intended to increase protection from second-hand smoke and to further erode social acceptability of smoking.
If the recommendation is adopted, smoking will not be allowed within nine metres of entrances and exits of public buildings, at outdoor sports fields or park amenities, swimming beaches, public squares, restaurant and bar patios, or on hospital grounds.
Ward 21 St. Paul’s councillor Joe Mihevc, who chairs the Board of Health, downplays the extensive reach of the proposed ban, saying it is “no big radical step” and is actually similar to bans already in place in about 60 municipalities across Canada.
“While there have been times when we’ve pushed the envelope in the City of Toronto, in this particular case we’re actually taking the next step and advancing best practices of what’s already out there,” he said in a recent phone interview.
The city would be able to enforce smoking bans at most of those targeted locations, but would have to ask the province to ban smoking on patios and hospital grounds.
his idea doesn’t fall favourably with everyone. Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, says the issue shouldn’t be where smoking occurs, but that it occurs at all.
“You’re allowing cigarettes to be sold, you’re allowing people to get sick, so if cigarette smoking is such an issue from a health point of view, why are we allowing cigarette smoking to take place?” he said in a phone interview, adding that smokers will just end up smoking on the sidewalk, which in Toronto is often right beside the patio anyway. “This regulation does not solve the problem.”
From an economic standpoint, Elenis says grocery stores, the main competitor to the restaurant industry, have seen a steady increase in customers since smoking was banned inside bars and restaurants, while the latter have seen the opposite result. He fears the trend will continue if the proposed sweeping ban goes through at the provincial level.
Keeping the status quo, he says, would be best for the restaurant industry.
“That’s the only thing that can make it an even playing field in the food service industry,” he said.
Elenis added many successful businesses pride themselves on giving customers smoke-free environments, and that sector would take a hit with the approval of a widespread ban.
Mihevc, who was chair of the Board of Health when smoking was banned in bars and restaurants, says he is confident the city isn’t biting off too much with the current proposal.
“It’s really a gentle step in the direction of further curtailing where smoking is allowed to happen for public health reasons and for social acceptability reasons,” he said.
On Mihevc’s hit list is “that picture of people hanging, having a butt, chatting it up, that contributes to that social acceptability feature of smoking.”
“So to be able to undermine it, we think we can push that curb down even further,” he said.
While smoking on the patio of an Eglinton Avenue East bar, Fergal Quinn said he is indifferent to the proposal.
“I’m a smoker, I’m going to smoke,” he said as he finished his cigarette. “They ban it here, I stand over there. They ban it there, I stand down there.”
Quinn wondered why officials don’t simply ban smoking altogether.
Dmitry Fenenko, a non-smoker who stopped to talk about it while out walking his dog through Eglinton Park, said he is elated by the proposed ban.
“I think it’s reasonable, so my opinion is it’s a big plus,” he said. “Sometimes when I’m walking around with my dog a lot of people are sitting here smoking, so it’s very frustrating.
“I don’t want to smell the smoke, so it’s a big plus. I super completely agree.”
Meanwhile, Tom Passili, smoking outside the doors of Eglinton West subway station, said he is not a supporter of the proposed ban, but also believes smokers “should have basic manners” when smoking in public places, particularly when around kids.
Passili said he understands the purpose of the ban but doesn’t think it’s necessary. He suggests an educational campaign instead.
“I have a lot of little cousins, I coach hockey, these kids aren’t smoking these days,” he said. “They give me crap for doing it. I think kids are a lot smarter, a lot more educated.”
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