Health unit ready to crack down on smoking

Northwestern Health Unit staff are poised to begin enforcing a smoking ban in all enclosed public places in the Kenora-Rainy River districts come Jan. 1.
“We’ve had enforcement training, staff are trained, and we’ve had legal experts from southern Ontario look at the whole procedure,” Bill Limerick, the health unit’s municipal and environmental health manager, said yesterday.
“We’re ready to roll,” he added. “We’re going to have staff in all municipalities involved.”
The health unit is acting under the instruction of CEO and medical officer of health Dr. Pete Sarsfield, who declared second-hand smoke a health hazard back in late February.
On the grounds of it being on par with any other health hazard the health unit may be responsible for preventing, Dr. Sarsfield has given businesses the ultimatum of butting out or facing the consequences—a court-ordered ban and hefty fine.
Limerick noted businesses in violation of the ban will be detected either during a routine inspection or by complaint. “We’ll go in and have a look and write down what we see. We might go back two or three times,” he said.
“If a business owner’s really trying, and there’s just one person in the corner smoking, we probably won’t take action right there. We’re after the people that say, ‘To hell with you,’” Limerick stressed.
“We’ll soon be running ads on the radio and in the newspapers,” he added. “Not so much for a ‘snitch-line,’ but for a number people can call to notify us if they know a business is blatantly not following the non-smoking policy.
“We’ll certainly hear if a restaurant down the street is filled with smokers while others nearby are not,” Limerick pledged.
Reported incidents are further investigated and by a court order, the violator is asked to stop all smoking on the premises in question. If a return inspection or report indicates the order has not been followed, the perpetrator will be brought to court.
At this point, the court can levy a fine up to $5,000 for individual business owners and $25,000 for corporations.
Even during any appeal, the court order banning smoking on the premises remains in effect.
While Limerick noted many opted to go smoke-free after the health unit began sending out notices to all businesses in the two districts back in June, he’s expecting there will be some court action in the New Year.
“We know there’s groups out there banding together to fight us,” he remarked, adding bars make up the majority of the businesses that are refusing to go smoke-free.
Other opponents contend it should be the provincial government that dictates the smoking ban, not the health unit or individual municipalities.
Dr. Sarsfield stipulated that municipalities served by the Northwestern Health Unit had to respond to him by May 31 with their intentions as to what they will do about the health hazard (i.e., establish bylaws banning smoking in all enclosed public places).
Only two municipalities—Ear Falls and La Vallee—have opted to comply so far.
Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said yesterday that although the topic of whether or not to have a non-smoking bylaw here undoubtedly will come up again in the New Year, town council is officially undecided as of yet.
“But we have put out information to businesses and individuals to encourage them to govern themselves. Over 20 businesses have gone smoke-free,” he noted.
“We feel it’s up to them to do it, not us,” Mayor Witherspoon added. “If the province wants to step in and ban smoking, so be it.”