Smoking ban to be enforced by year’s end

Dr. Pete Sarsfield said he’s preparing to take the hard line with area business owners who don’t have their customers “butt out.”
“I was hoping we’d be ready by Oct. 1. or even Sept. 1, but right now, I’d say by mid-November or Dec. 31,” the CEO and chief medical officer for the health unit said Tuesday.
He noted the health unit has been verifying its legal grounds to enforce a decree earlier this year that deemed second-hand smoke as a “health hazard.”
“We’ve got lawyers working on this, and they’re really good at tying up all the loose ends,” said Dr. Sarsfield. “But it has been maddening. We wouldn’t have had any questions had it been any other health risks.
“Smoking has become too acceptable.”
Still, Dr. Sarsfield said something that’s been “acceptable” for so long won’t be difficult to enforce because societal norms are changing, pointing out recent lawsuits by workers against their employers after developing health problems from second-hand smoke.
“Public opinion is really different than when I was a kid. And it will still keep changing,” he remarked.
“The fact we can make a change is a certainty—it’s just a matter of whether it will be harmonious or it will be nasty.”
Dr. Sarsfield noted the enforcement process will be as follows:
•the violating business is detected either during a routine inspection or a complaint;
•this is further investigated and by a court order, the violator is asked to stop all smoking on the premises in question; and
•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 $25,000.
“Of course, there’s an appeal process afterwards,” said Dr. Sarsfield. “But even if someone makes an appeal, the court order banning smoking on the premises remains in effect.”
He added he’s confident the enforcement will be the final nudge to get all businesses to go smoke-free.
“I think we’re in a society where people tend to obey the law,” he said. “A few months ago, people might have thought this was some PR stunt, or Sarsfield was just shooting his mouth off again.
“But now I think it’s going to stick.”
Dr. Sarsfield said that a year ago, only about 300 of the 3,000-plus businesses in the Kenora-Rainy River districts were smoke-free. The most recent numbers show that’s up to about 900.
Dr. Sarsfield issued an official notice in late February that second-hand smoke was a health hazard.
He also 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 hazard (i.e., establish bylaws banning smoking in all enclosed public places).
Only one municipality—Ear Falls—has opted to comply so far.
Then on June 3, the health unit began sending out notices to all businesses in the two districts to go smoke-free, adding the onus will be on the owner of the business—not the customer—if someone lights up.