Few district towns going smoke-free

The Northwestern Health Unit may end up taking legal action later this year as few district municipalities have responded to Dr. Pete Sarsfield’s request to implement bylaws banning smoking in enclosed public places before the end of May.
“The response has been from across the spectrum. There’s only been one, Ear Falls, which will be passing a 100 percent smoke-free bylaw,” said the CEO and chief medical officer of the health unit said Tuesday.
“The only others who’ve responded [Kenora, Machin, and Red Lake] have said they’re not going to do it, saying it interferes with business,” Dr. Sarsfield said. “Or they take the Pontius Pilot approach and say it’s not their responsibility.
“But the majority haven’t responded at all, and I don’t think they will,” he admitted. “Many say they will pass bylaws at their own convenience—and even then it will be a partial ban.”
Dr. Sarsfield issued an official notice in late February that second-hand smoke was a health hazard, stipulating that municipalities served by the Northwestern Health Unit must respond to him by May 31 with their intentions as to what they will do about the hazard (i.e., establish bylaws banning smoking in enclosed public places).
He mentioned partial bylaws would be “better than no bylaws,” but “there’s a series of ‘buts’ that go along with it.”
“One, we know tobacco smoke is a health hazard, not just to the elderly, or the previously ill or children—everybody. And we are responsible to do something about it,” Dr. Sarsfield remarked.
“Two, in the absence of action by the municipalities or the provincial government, we plan to be taking action, if possible,” he stressed.
Dr. Sarsfield noted the health unit would work to fill in the gaps of any partial bylaws municipalities may institute. For instance, if smoking is banned in restaurants, the health unit would try and force the ban to all workplaces.
“We’ll take action in the calendar year, if our resources and the courts allow,” he said. “The judge must determine whether it’s in the power of the health unit to do this. If it’s not possible, then so be it.
“But this whole issue is going to evolve over the course of the year, on the public, legal, and political stages,” Dr. Sarsfield vowed.
It’s remains to be seen if the Town of Fort Frances will come up with a response by May 31. Even though it hosted three public meetings on the issue last month, council won’t discuss it again formally until its next meeting Monday night.
But Mayor Glenn Witherspoon previously has said such a decision will be made on council’s own timetable.