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Anti-smoking campaign ‘strongly supported’: Sarsfield

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Although the flow of postcards has trickled down to two or three a day, the Northwestern Health Unit has a much clearer picture of whether people in the Kenora-Rainy River districts support its push to ban smoking in enclosed public places.

“In total, we’ve gotten about 20 percent of the postcards returned to us. It’s a better response than I thought we’d see,” Dr. Pete Sarsfield, CEO and medical officer of health for the health unit, said Tuesday, referring to the $25,000 campaign launched last month.

“We’re interpreting that as our point of view being strongly supported. And talking to people who do surveys like this for a living, they say it’s a fantastic response,” he added, noting 20 percent is five percent higher than the average 15 percent similar campaigns usually yield.

Canada Post considers an eight percent return rate a good response, health promoter Jennifer McKibbon noted at last month’s Rainy River District Municipal Association annual meeting here.

The Township of Dawson showed the highest rate of response, with 26 percent of households returning the postcards in, followed closely by Dryden (25 percent), then Atikokan (22.7), Morley (21.4), Rainy River (20), Emo (20.8), and Kenora (20.4).

Red Lake was next at 19.5, followed by Fort Frances (18.7), Ear Falls (18.4), Vermilion Bay (18.1), La Vallee (17.8), Sioux Lookout (17.3), Ignace (16.3), Chapple (16), Lake of the Woods (14), Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls (12.9), and Pickle Lake (6.4).

Numbers for a few areas, such as Alberton, weren’t available as of press time.

Fort Frances’ percentage would equal about 700 households.

“Remember, those are households, not individuals. It’s safe to say you can double those numbers to get a better idea how many people agree with us,” Dr. Sarsfield remarked.

McKibbon and nurses in various communities served by the health unit currently are relaying the results of the mail-in campaign to the respective municipalities.

Not only is Dr. Sarsfield pleased with the campaign’s response, but the way it seems to be getting some to think seriously about banning smoking.

“While some municipalities like Dryden have said ‘Banning smoking will hurt business too much,’ and refuse to create an anti-smoking bylaw, other municipalities have said, ‘Yes, this is important,’ and are still talking about it,” he noted.

“And recently, a hotel in Dryden and one of the largest restaurants in Kenora have decided to go smoke-free,” he added. “They both said the campaign and the information we’ve been pushing for the pass six months have influenced their decisions.”

Though the postcard campaign is wrapping up, Dr. Sarsfield said he’s not slowing down in his efforts to get people to “butt out” in enclosed public places.

“The next step is to do a formal notice saying second-hand smoke is a health hazard,” he explained. “We’re in the draft process right now, and have run our third draft past the lawyers.

“I hope to see them going out by the end of the month or in early March.”

This formal notice will be served to all the municipalities and businesses in both districts, although it will take some time to track down and notify all of the latter group, Dr. Sarsfield admitted.

“On this notice, we’ll basically say that if you aren’t smoke-free by a certain date, then we’re going to have to move forward under the Health Protection and Promotion Act,” he said.

Dr. Sarsfield said last month the health unit was prepared to take legal action on the matter, with the backing of the Ontario Tobacco Network.

“The time for a change is right, or maybe I should say, overdue,” he remarked.

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