Smoking issue to come back before council

The Health Services Review Appeal Board’s ruling Tuesday against the Northwestern Health Unit means the issue of whether to ban smoking in all enclosed public places once again is one that will be coming back to district municipal councils, including Fort Frances.
“I was in attendance at the Northwestern Health Unit board meeting yesterday and we went over the decision in its entirety,” Mayor Dan Onichuk said this morning.
“And basically, the appeal board is putting it back to where the previous provincial government had— to the municipalities.
“However, the new premier has pledged to do something about it in the next three years,” noted Mayor Onichuk.
“That leaves us in the position where we have to weigh banning smoking in public places and being responsible for enforcing or waiting for the province to do it, and possibly getting some sort of subsidy from them to enforce it,” he added.
“I’m almost certain it will discussed by council in the near future. It needs to be addressed,” the mayor said. “I think it would be a good thing to bring it up in committee of the whole and let the public hear what we have to say.”^The previous council discussed banning smoking in enclosed public places several times after Dr.
Pete Sarsfield, CEO and medical officer of health for the health unit, began his push to get every community in the Kenora-Rainy River districts to “butt out.”^But with the exception of Coun.
Struchan Gilson, who whole-heartedly wanted council to ban smoking, council agreed to leave such enforcement up to a higher level of government.
As reported in yesterday’s Times, the appeal board ruled the health unit did not have the authority to ban smoking in enclosed public places, as Dr. Sarsfield proposed to do under Section 13 of the Health Pro-motion and Protection Act.
Instead, it said the mandate of the medical officer of health—with respect to smoking, environmental tobacco smoke, and the general health concerns associated with them—is to promote smoke-free living through co-operation, education, and assistance in the enforcement of other provincial legislation such as the Tobacco Control Act.
The appeal board noted Dr.
Sarsfield’s authority in this case is limited, and it could not support his interpretation of Section 13 of the HPPA.
The local health unit first directed all municipalities in the Kenora and Rainy River districts to ban smoking in enclosed public places in 2002—on the grounds secondhand smoke is a public health hazard.
Then last January, Dr. Sarsfield said he intended to lay charges under the HPPA against businesses and workplaces that refused to comply with his no-smoking edict.
But resistance from some area restaurant and bar owners, under the moniker “Freedom of Choice Coalition,” who said the health unit couldn’t deny them their rights and hurt their business at the same time, saw the matter go before a three-person committee from the appeal board last spring.