Backlash against smoking law huge
VANCOUVER - A prison went on riot alert, a bar issued its employees gas masks, and now the layoffs have started.
British Columbia is having a tough time facing up to new laws that make it illegal to smoke in public places, including bars and restaurants.
Five operations have closed since the new regulations came into effect earlier this year. The latest victim: a popular Vancouver nightclub called BaBalus, where patrons used to smoke and drink the whole night through.
"This is a former cigar and martini bar," Vance Campbell, vice-president of Granville Entertainment, said as he stood on the empty dance floor at BaBalus yesterday afternoon. "Now half that formula is missing."
BaBalus, one of the city's most successful nightclubs, is still a popular place to socialize. But after the smoking ban came into effect and the clouds of tobacco smoke lifted, the bar found 30% of its business had evaporated too.
Yesterday BaBalus laid off nine workers and cut back on the hours of two more.
"It feels terrible," said Mr. Campbell about dismissing workers.
He said the club somehow had to find ways to cut back on spending by $281,000 in order to stay profitable.
The New Democratic government began introducing its tough anti-smoking laws late last year, starting in the capital region, Victoria. On Jan. 1 the regulations, which are enforced by the Workers Compensation Board, were extended to the rest of the province.
The hospitality industry, which tried to head off the legislation by promising to install expensive air scrubbers in bars and restaurants, has been hit hard, said Mr. Campbell.
Around B.C. nearly 700 workers have been laid off, and a bar and four small restaurants in the northern part of the province have closed.
Mr. Campbell said he's sure the downturn in business is directly related to the smoking ban, because the industry is making January to January comparisons, to account for seasonal adjustments.
"Business is down 15% to 85%, depending on the type of operation," he said.
In a bid to put pressure on the government, the hospitality industry in B.C. yesterday stepped up its publicity campaign, which earlier had bar employees showing up for work in gas masks as a stunt to underline how far they were prepared to go to let customers keep smoking. The latest effort features a stark black and white poster showing a motorcycle cop whose helmet badge reads: "NDP Smoking Police."
The poster urges people to call their local MLA.
Mr. Campbell said bars and restaurants could install filtering devices, costing up to $50,000 that would remove 96% of particulates and 90% of gases from the air.
"We could render the air in here cleaner than it is outside, cleaner than it is in schools," he said. But the WCB rejected the option, saying it didn't do enough to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
Among the workers the WCB is responsible for protecting are guards at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, a maximum security prison.
Unable to let inmates have free access outside, where they could smoke, the prison yesterday brought in a full smoking ban.
Sheldon Green, a B.C. Corrections Branch spokesman, said prisoners who help prepare meals and keep the jail clean refused to work throughout the day, and other inmates went on a hunger strike.
Mr. Green said earlier some prisoners had warned of taking "extreme action" to protest the smoking ban, which led to a security alert in the prison.
He said the jail looked at installing ventilation systems, but it would have cost up to $500,000 and might not have scrubbed the air to adequate standards.
Mr. Green said the smoking ban has created "significant tensions" in the jail, but he's hopeful the 295 prisoners -- 80% of whom smoke -- will eventually come to accept the situation.
For now, extra guards are on duty -- and cells are being searched not only for drugs and weapons, but cigarettes too.