I hope other northwestern municipalities will not join the Township of Alberton’s irresponsible call for the dismissal of Northwestern Medical Officer of Health Dr. Pete Sarsfield because he is using his authority to regulate second-hand smoke exposure.
Last year, I travelled with Dr. Sarsfield and his staff to numerous municipal meetings in Northwestern Ontario, at which he repeatedly asked municipal representatives to pass smoke-free bylaws based on the clear medical consensus that second-hand smoke is a serious danger to health.
These were the most recent of many attempts he has made to convince local towns to go smoke-free.
With three exceptions (Sioux Lookout, La Vallee, and Ear Falls), municipalities in the northwest either did nothing, voted in a weak and incomplete bylaw, or specifically voted not to enact smoke-free provisions.
Section 13 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which defines Dr. Sarsfield’s responsibilities, states that where a medical officer of health identifies a health hazard, he/she should take steps to eliminate it.
Second-hand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, and many respiratory diseases.
As a comparison, imagine if the Town of Walkerton, or its local medical officer of health, had decided not to take any remedial measures once E. coli contamination of the town’s water supply was discovered.
While the illnesses caused by second-hand smoke exposure take longer to become apparent than those in Walkerton, and while those dying from exposure are not the subject of intensive media scrutiny, the disease and death are just as real and just as avoidable—and the medical officer of health’s responsibility is just as clear.
The second-hand smoke issue has been widely covered for years in Ontario media, and effectively addressed by many municipal councils elsewhere in the province. The evidence is clear and proves the need for action. Public opinion strongly supports smoke-free workplaces and public places.
In moving to make Northwestern Ontario smoke-free, Dr. Sarsfield is simply carrying out his public health mandate. To suggest otherwise, as Alberton Township council has done, is simply to avoid responsibility for failing to protect public health—despite a strong body of evidence, and repeated appeals to do so which have been ignored.
Yours very truly,
Michael Perley, Director
Ontario Campaign for
Action on Tobacco