Sparks fly during smoking bylaw debate

The local Heart Health Coalition and reps from the Northwestern Health Unit last Wednesday presented Emo council with 163 postcards from households there (out of a possible 762) regarding a proposed bylaw to ban smoking in enclosed public places.
They also touted the benefits of the bylaw, but were met with dissension from some councillors and a local business owner.
Health promoter Jennifer McKibbon provided Emo council with an overview of what the health unit wants—and what other areas of the province have done.
“We’re here to increase the comfort level of council,” she said.
But some councillors did not seem comfortable. Coun. Ken Fisher was concerned about the economic ramifications such a bylaw would have on Emo’s business sector.
“Business people mean quite a bit to me and they know they’re going to lose money [under this bylaw],” he argued.
While Coun. Fisher and McKibbon debated the bylaw, Peter McQuaker, owner of Village Variety in Emo, and Dr. Ingrid Krampetz heatedly debated the issue in the back of the room.
McQuaker was unfazed by the statistics that peppered McKibbon’s presentation, comparing the bylaw to “what Hitler did in 1939.”
“Isn’t this about choices?” he asked. “I made a choice when I opened a business.”
“What’s the choice?” countered Dr. Krampetz. “I was born a non-smoker—don’t make the choice for me.”
“I can’t promise you won’t lose business, but this bylaw is for the sake of health and safety,” McKibbon added.
McQuaker still wasn’t swayed by the arguments. “What’s next? We’ll be in here implementing marijuana laws next,” he remarked.
Coun. Gary Judson agreed with McQuaker, and wondered who would pay for bylaw enforcement.
“People are generally law-abiding,” said McKibbon. “The bylaw puts the onus on business owners. If businesses decline to enforce the bylaw, the municipality may have to enforce [it].”
She added that because the bylaw is easy to understand, it’s easy to enforce.
The Northwestern Health Unit began its postcard campaign in the Rainy River and Kenora districts in January to gauge public support for a smoke-free bylaw in their respective communities.
“We knew the best way to get smoke-free workplaces was through the municipalities,” McKibbon said. “We opted to send letters to households.”
Canada Post said normal interest in a postage-paid postcard campaign would generate an eight-18 percent rate of return, but the Emo return rate was much higher—21 percent.
“This shows the community has interest in the issue,” McKibbon said, adding 55 percent of Ontarians currently are protected by smoking bylaws.
Emo council will discuss the bylaw again at its next meeting March 14. Reeve Russ Fortier also said he’ll discuss it with neighbouring municipalities at the next executive meeting.