Tobacco use prevention is a community problem which requires us to come together and suggest workable solutions. We can all play a part. If you are a customer, let restaurant owners know that you prefer smoke-free dining. If you are a voter, strongly urge your councillors to draft a smoking bylaw.
If you are a restaurant owner, participate in any public consultations for a bylaw. If you are a municipal councillor, have the courage to make all places where children go smoke-free.
In recent months, there has been a barrage of information in the media about tobacco. The health effects are well-known to Canadians but the impact may not be. Each year in Canada, more than 40,000 people are expected to die as a direct result of smoking. This is 100 people per day dying from a preventable cause.
Estimates on the direct and indirect costs of smoking to society are as high as 10 billion per year.
Governments at the federal and provincial levels have passed laws designed to protect people from tobacco companies. American state governments have successfully brokered deals with tobacco companies to recoup billions of dollars in health care costs. Hundreds of communities have eliminated smoking in public places through policy.
Northwestern Ontario remains untouched by the progress made on tobacco control. We apparently feel that nobody has the right to tell us where not to smoke.
Take restaurants as an example. Restaurants are not required by law to provide non-smoking seating. Many municipal councillors do not want to introduce smoking bylaws. They prefer that restaurant owners control smoking on their own. Restaurant owners prefer to leave the matter alone.
Some restaurant owners will accept regulation if it applies equally to all places. Provincial governments prefer to leave it to the municipality. This completes the circle of inaction.
Ironically, public support for regulating public smoking has not been higher. In Northwestern Ontario, 82 percent surveyed were in favour of making some places smoke-free. At the same time, medical and health practitioners have called on municipal governments to take reasonable steps and protect the health of their citizens.
The 1997 Health Promotion Report of the Kenora-Rainy River District Health Council recommended that all communities should pass bylaws prohibiting smoking in public places, and establishing separate smoking areas at work and dining establishments.
No municipality in the Kenora-Rainy River District has yet to pass a smoking bylaw.
Without social support for tobacco use prevention, it is not surprising that 38 percent of grade nine students, and 47 percent of grade 11 students in Northwestern Ontario are smokers. After all, if it really was that bad, wouldn’t somebody do something about it?
A bylaw isn’t the entire answer but it is part of the solution. We need to act.
Pete Sarsfield, MD, FRCPC
Medical Officer of Health and
Chief Executive Officer