Perley dispels myths on anti-smoking bylaws

Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, was at the Civic Centre over breakfast yesterday morning to dispel some of the myths around just what happens when a municipality bans smoking in public places.
“We’ve absolutely established second-hand smoke is behind various fatal diseases. Years ago, I thought it was an irritant, now it’s a major health hazard,” he told the dozen people who turned out to hear him speak, including Mayor Glenn Witherspoon and Coun. Struchan Gilson.
As director of a group that focuses on research from around the world related to the issue of second-hand smoke and what others have done about it, Perley answered one of the “big questions” often brought up in debate—losing business by banning smoking.
“U.S. and Canadian studies have shown no net negative economic impact,” he noted. “Believe me, we want to see that the economic effects people claim are real are in fact real.
“And we haven’t found any evidence yet.”
Citing Ottawa as an example of a smoke-free city, hospitality employment numbers have gone up—while workplace insurance claims have gone down—since adopting the bylaw.
He added other places, like Waterloo, have seen the number of restaurants and bars grow.
“There’s also no evidence of higher spending by smokers even though many bar owners claim they drink more and are better tippers,” said Perley.
He added it’s tough to prove that banning smoking causes businesses to go bankrupt.
“Around 20 percent of accommodation, food, and beverage businesses fail in their first year [and] 67 percent fail in their first five years,” Perley noted.
“And what’s more, operators that do claim to have lost business never produce taxation/accounting evidence of any loss. They allege or predict future losses.”
Perley also stressed the importance of implementing a bylaw that demands a complete ban for everyone at the same time.
“Phasing things in, like with designated smoking rooms, only creates inequities among businesses. And what happens if the business isn’t large enough, or wealthy enough, to add another room?” he asked.
“And any exceptions and exemptions within a bylaw only makes litigation more likely. Make it the same for everyone,” he advised.
A few other tips Perley gave included implementing the bylaw when it’s warm outside, and notifying the public and businesses about the changes far in advance of enforcing it through advertising and signs.
Perley said municipalities that have enacted such bylaws have found them to be largely self-enforcing.
“The onus can be placed on proprietors to ensure compliance. If they fail to do anything when someone is smoking, it’s their fault,” he remarked.
As well, bar owners could be risking more than a fine if they fail to enforce the bylaw.
“Under the Liquor Licence Act, compliance with all local laws is important. Therefore, disobeying the smoking bylaw will be considered when the times comes for the licence to be renewed,” said Perley.
Perley also addressed the “freedom of choice” argument some contest in the anti-smoking bylaw debate.
“We have business owners who say, ‘I don’t want anybody to tell me what to do.’ But you have to understand, they’re already running under other regulations, like building codes, fire safety codes. . . .
“If you give someone salmonella poisoning, you’d be shut down,” he noted.
Mayor Witherspoon said the information he learned at the breakfast would be useful to the town in the near future after council agreed Monday night to reconsider implementing a bylaw here.
Council previously had agreed it wasn’t prepared to consider a smoke-free bylaw for enclosed public places last month, citing the lack of provincial or federal support on the matter.
“This is a very interesting presentation, very educational,” the mayor said after Perley’s talk. “When we begin our meetings on the issue, we could use this.”
Coun. Struchan Gilson asked Perley to put together more statistics to make an unbiased, fact-based case when the time comes for the town to talk to business owners and the public about a possible bylaw.
Jennifer McKibbon, health promoter for the Northwestern Health Unit, pledged she, along with groups like the local Heart Health Coalition which brought Perley here, would offer full co-operation with the town to get them as much information as possible.