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Smoking bylaw debate continues

Dear Editor,
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the members of the Rainy River Heart Health Coalition for their hard work. These volunteers have found themselves at the front line of the smoke-free bylaw issue in their community. I know from personal experience that there are people in most of the communities where smoke-free bylaws are being discussed who feel the need to voice their negative feelings about such a bylaw at high volume and accompanied by cursing and rudeness. I suspect that volunteers in the local coalitions are sometimes at the receiving end of such tirades. This is indeed unfortunate.
When the Northwestern Health Unit determined, in 2002, to deal with the significant public health hazard of second-hand tobacco smoke in indoor spaces we knew that what we were requiring represents a change from the regular behavior of the smoking public and as such would likely meet with resistance. We also knew that there would be resistance from some in the hospitality business because their business sector stands to be impacted by such a change in behavior, and their understandable fear that such impact will be economically negative. Mr. Michael Perley, Director of Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, was recently invited to the Northwest by the health unit to address this. He asserts that if the studies that have been funded in some way by the tobacco industry are eliminated from consideration and we look only at those that are based on the real numbers found in sales tax data information, the studies indicate no net negative impact on the hospitality industry as a result of smoke free bylaws.
But even knowing that we were going to face resistance, we also knew that the vast (but unfortunately still silent) majority of people understand why we have to change the way we look at smoking indoors; how it is largely the workers in the hospitality industry who are paying the price for our lack of action on this issue; how changing our behavior as a community of adults will positively influence the smoking pattern of a whole upcoming generation of teens; how a community decision taken now for a healthier future will result in significantly fewer premature deaths later.
To be honest, I naively thought that the aforementioned majority would rise to the occasion and get involved in the debate in an effort to influence the outcome. I also believed that the municipal leaders of our time would also rise to the occasion given the evidence put before them about the health hazard and the significant advantages to long term community health afforded by the simple passage of a 100% smoke-free bylaw. There is, after all, a firmly established trend towards smoke-free indoor spaces and many municipal examples of success with smoke-free bylaws in Ontario. We are not the first down this path by any means and I still think I wasn’t wrong to place my hope in the municipal leaders of the Rainy River Valley and in the actions of people of those communities who care enough to get involved in an issue that is meant to create a healthier future for their community.
Jennifer McKibbon,
Health Promoter,
Northwestern Health Unit
Dryden, Ontario