Council to weigh all sides of smoking issue

The third and final meeting on a proposed municipal bylaw to ban smoking in all enclosed public spaces here was held at the Civic Centre on Tuesday night, and now town council faces some tough decisions as to what to do about the issue.
“We understand the job that’s ahead of us isn’t easy,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon told the dozen or so speakers and members of the public who had gathered for the meeting.
“We don’t have any answers tonight, nor should we at this point. We’ll be taking this to debate in the committee of the whole and council,” he added.
“I would think in the next one to two months, we should have some sort of first reading come forward.
“We would like to be all things to everybody, but that’s impossible,” the mayor continued. “We’ve heard what these presenters have to say. It now rests with seven people and a whole lot of information.”
Eight presenters and five written statements came before council at last night’s meeting—once again showing split opinions as to whether there should be a smoking ban for health reasons, no smoking ban for business reasons, or whether the decision should be left up to higher levels of government or the business owners themselves.
Among the first camp was Dr. Nancy Naylor, who first related many facts about the ill effects of second-hand smoke on fetuses, children, teens, and adults.
“Fort Frances is hosting the WHO International Conference on Safe Communities. We can be very proud of this,” she noted. “In light of what we know about second-hand smoke, and the fact that Fort Frances is not a smoke-free community in public areas, I would like each of us to ask ourselves the question, ‘How safe is it really?’”
Nurse practitioner Marlyss Thiessen, of the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, also supported the smoking bylaw, citing not only does it protect workers in businesses that allow smoking, but it curbs the likelihood of teenagers to start smoking.
Health promoter Elaine Fischer of the Northwestern Health Unit urged council to see the bylaw as a “natural progression to healthy community.”
She argued the public will adjust to the bylaw as it has over the past decades as smoking became disallowed in public transportation and many workplaces.
Perhaps the most passionate of presenters, however, was Lisa Larson, a local waitress whose been subjected to second-hand smoke at her job for 14 years, and is starting to experience health problems.
“If this smoking bylaw does not go through, I can see myself having to quit my job because of my health situation, which is a shame,” she remarked.
“It would be like a smoker having to quit his or her job because the air was too clean for him or her to breathe,” she added.
“Many smokers have commented on how they have the right to smoke where they want, it’s their choice. Well guess what! For 32 years, I have never been given the right or choice over a smoker.
“Isn’t it time that I did? Now is when you, the council, have the chance to make a difference. Please, don’t let this opportunity go up in smoke!” Larson pleaded.
Dr. Cam Moorhouse and pharmacist Kim Metke also gave their support to such a bylaw via written statements, while local resident Paul Forget gave his verbal support.
Meanwhile, the United Native Friendship Centre and the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau both said a smoking bylaw should exempt Bingos, which are crucial to many local non-profit groups’ survival.
“To look at this issue fairly is to look at it through everyone’s perspective and not just the view of the health unit,” said Sheila McMahon, executive director of the UNFC in a letter read aloud by Mayor Witherspoon.
“All of our charities do good work in the community and we hope to continue in the future. But without our Bingo proceeds, it will all come to an end,” she stressed.
And other individuals and groups contested the smoking policy shouldn’t be left up to council.
“Local business owners should determine themselves if they wish their businesses to be smoke-free, not Dr. Sarsfield nor council,” Zita Miller, secretary-treasurer of the Northern Action Group, wrote in a letter.
Bud Edwards asked council to forget economics and health issues and think about the issue from a philosophical point-of-view, stressing the difference between laws and bylaws, and the balance between rights and freedom.
“There is a tremendous fundamental difference in scope, and I think it behooves council to know for a fact what are the real limits of your powers before proceeding,” he said.
And representing the business sector were Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Roberta Oliver and Ted DeBenetti, chair of the local Business Improvement Area.
As promised at the previous meeting April 16, Oliver delivered smoking bylaw survey results for council’s consideration. Of the 170 Chamber members surveyed, 51 responded as follows:
•41 percent felt a smoking bylaw would impact their business;
•39 percent currently have a policy regarding smoking and non-smoking;
•39 percent said they would experience an economic impact if a bylaw were imposed; and
•34 percent said the Chamber should adopt the Ontario Chamber of Commerce policy, which states the provincial government should, working with the hospitality industry, adopt province-wide legislation which protects the public but lets businesses compete fairly.
DeBenetti also surveyed the BIA’s 50 members. Out of 26 returns, he found responses were similar to the Chamber’s—most business owners wanted a smoking policy to be left up their discretion.