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Speakers split on smoking bylaw

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While no one denied tobacco smoke is a health hazard, presenters at the first of three public meetings scheduled to address establishing a bylaw banning smoking in all enclosed public places in Fort Frances clearly had differing opinions on the subject Tuesday night at the Civic Centre.

One proponent of not implementing any bylaw hastily was the local Chamber of Commerce, represented by president Roberta Oliver.

“The FFCC feels this issue is a serious and explosive one, and our first request for the mayor and council is to keep the two public meetings they have set for April 16 and 30,” she said.

“Our main concern is the economic repercussions that Fort Frances could face if a bylaw is implemented,” she added. “Recent closings of several businesses already shows empty buildings on Scott Street.

“And we would have to question how many more would be added faced with this bylaw.”

Oliver said the Chamber will help the town gauge local business reactions to the proposed bylaw by polling all of its members.

Larry Syrovy, owner of the Rainy Lake Hotel and member of the local Business Improvement Area board, agreed the town must co-operate with the business community and “take their time with this.”

“I’m a non-smoker and I’d like nothing better than to not have to breathe the smoke. But we have to accept the reality many people do,” he remarked.

“The way of the future is that smoking will be banned. But forcing it on us in a hasty fashion would be a detriment to the economy.

“Maybe it will level off in a few years, but who will be left standing?” Syrovy asked.

Fort Frances resident Tannis Drysdale, president of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce, called the demand for a smoking bylaw “an unreasonable request from the Northwestern Health Unit” when the province hasn’t backed the fact tobacco smoke is indeed a health hazard.

“What I do not accept is developing legislation making it the responsibility of municipal councils. Leave it up to the province,” she argued.

Drysdale noted that without the province taking charge and creating a level playing field, the end result could be one community or district implementing a smoke-free bylaw while another doesn’t.

This would mean lost business, resulting in lost jobs, and ultimately, lost population as people move from an area economically affected by the bylaw to one that isn’t, she warned.

Paul Noonan, co-owner of La Place Rendez-Vous here, stressed that while regulating such a health hazard is necessary, some middle ground must be reached on the issue.

“What we need to is come up with is a solution that addresses public health while addressing the interests of economic welfare,” he told councillors.

“And I know I would be willing to volunteer to help devise such a solution.”

Perhaps most strongly opposed to a blanket smoking ban was the Fort Frances Bingo Hall, which was represented by Linda LaRocque, president of the Fort Frances Bingo Association.

“A smoking bylaw would definitely affect the revenues charities could generate,” she said. “I don’t think that going smoke-free is the answer. There has to be a compromise.”

Presently, there are 23 charities that operate Bingos there, raising more than $550,000 annually to provide for a variety of services within the community.

LaRocque noted that while up to 80 percent of its patrons are smokers, the Bingo Hall currently offers a smoke-free area for non-smokers.

And news of the possible smoking bylaw has made the association look twice at its financial future, halting its plans to build a new facility here.

Meanwhile, others clearly were in favour of a smoking bylaw.

“Since there is no way to completely remove carcinogens from the air, remove the source,” pleaded June Keddie of the local Canadian Cancer Society.

“This issue isn’t about restrictions, it’s about respect for everyone,” said local resident Wayne Lundstrom. “Please pass a bylaw as soon as you can.”

Jennifer McKibbon, health promoter with the Northwestern Health Unit, has addressed council several times previously on the bylaw issue.

Last night, she reiterated her stance that banning smoking in enclosed public places not only protects workers and children who may have no choice but to suffer its effects, but eventually will “de-normalize” smoking—helping current smokers to quit and discouraging youth from starting.

Mark Jones, a local resident and member of the Fort Frances Kiwanis Club, agreed the health of youth is one of the best reasons to institute a ban, and reminded council that smokers are actually the minority.

“No matter how many speak in favour of a bylaw tonight, the silent majority are watching you on this one,” he remarked.

Cecile Lavigne and Helen Dillman also spoke in favour of establishing such a bylaw. Residents Carole Wilde and Heidi Naturkach also voiced their opinions on the matter through written statements, which were read out by the mayor.

Coun. Struchan Gilson, who has remained adamantly in favour of a smoking bylaw over the past few months, asserted council should indicate as soon as possible whether it intends on ever establishing one.

“I’m frustrated. I’m personally wanting to make a decision tonight. I see very little use in discussing it further. The only issue here is health,” he remarked.

“We’ve been asked by our community to make a decision. It would be immoral not to make one,” he added.

“I hear what Coun. Gilson has to say, but it’s not the reality of the situation,” replied Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, adding council is committed to gathering more information on smoking bylaws and the impact they’ve had on businesses elsewhere.

“We’re not going to drop a guillotine on it. We’ll do it properly,” he vowed.

Two more public meetings are slated April 16 and 30. Watch for advertisements in the newspaper as to when to contact the Civic Centre if you or your group wants to make a presentation.

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