Sarsfield still hopeful about smoking ban

While almost all municipalities in the Kenora and Rainy River districts declined to pass bylaws banning smoking in enclosed public places when first asked to do so, the Northwestern Health Unit’s medical officer of health said he’s hopeful new faces in both the provincial and municipal political arenas may see things go his way by the end of the year.
“I still think it shouldn’t be something that’s dropped in the municipalities’ laps, with one going smoke-free and another not,” said Dr. Pete Sarsfield. “It should be done across the board.
“This should be done by the Liberals. Dalton McGuinty said in his platform he would do it,” he noted. “If this is a health hazard, which it must be if they said they were going to do something about it, why wait?
“If there’s ice in the winter, you get rid of it because it’s a hazard then. You don’t wait until spring,” Dr. Sarsfield reasoned. “But if they don’t end up doing anything, I would definitely ask the new municipal councils to reconsider their previous stances.”
As reported in Monday’s Daily Bulletin, Dr. Sarsfield also is appealing to local area physicians for donations to help fund the health unit’s legal battle over the smoking ban, which is continuing.
And the campaign already is working, he said late Monday.
“I’m looking at a $1,000 cheque right now from a group of three physicians,” Dr. Sarsfield said. “On the weekend, I got a call from a physician I’ve know for years, and he and several doctors are going to be sending a cheque.”
Dr. Sarsfield noted about $2,000 in financial contributions have come in over the past few days.
He mentioned the idea for the donations wasn’t his, but something done in response to some Kenora area physicians who—back in May—asked Dr. Sarsfield if there was a way they could contribute to battle to ban second-smoke from enclosed public places and receive receipts for such aid.
“So, we looked into it and went through the hoops to get the status. And believe me, there was all the bureaucratic hoops you’d expect,” said Dr. Sarsfield.
While he has made his appeal to doctors, he also is encouraging anyone else wanting to donate.
“I chose the doctors for two reasons. One being that they, along with nurses, are the front-line workers who see the effects of second-hand smoke and have to deal with the resulting illnesses and deaths,” he noted.
“Of course, if anyone else wanted to help contribute to our costs, I would welcome it, and they could do so at any of our offices.”
Dr. Sarsfield credited to the medical community for the support it already has given to the health unit.
“The reality is that we probably would not have been able to initiate, continue, or [hopefully] prevail in this campaign without the overt input of these respected and influential community physicians,” he noted.
The health unit has spent roughly $150,000 defending its designation of second-hand smoke as a “health hazard” under the Health Protection and Promotion Act because a few bar and restaurant owners appealed the move to the Health Services Appeal and Review Board.
The decision of the review board is expected by the end of the year. But Dr. Sarsfield admitted both the health unit and the group of business owners opposing it will get a chance to appeal the decision—regardless of what it may be—and so the end to the battle may not as near as he’d prefer.
“The bar owners against us have said they’ll fight until, and I quote, ‘their last breath.’ Isn’t that appropriate?” he remarked.
Amid the politics and lengthy courtroom hearings, however, Dr. Sarsfield said he’s inspired by the fact his message—second-hand smoke is a health hazard—seems to be getting through to the public at large.
“Evidence of that is three years ago when we really started pushing this, 15 percent of businesses in our jurisdiction were smoke-free,” he noted.
“By our newest numbers, 65 percent have become so. And the thing is, with the appeal still up in the air, they don’t have to be. It’s all voluntary,” added Dr. Sarsfield.
He noted one Fort Frances business owner who first was fearful the smoking ban would hurt his popular restaurant and bar a great deal recently came to Dr. Sarsfield and apologized for not believing such a change—initially made out of fear of fines from the health unit—would end up being for the good.
The business owner said people actually are using the bar and restaurant more than ever—and cleaning costs are down.
“People are changing their minds. Society’s changing,” said Dr. Sarsfield. “There is a train that’s coming. The only question is when, and how.”
(Fort Frances Times)