Ottawa Imposes Tough Ban on Public Smoking
OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian capital of Ottawa on Wednesday ushered in one of the country's toughest public smoking bans, forbidding people in the city from lighting up in workplaces, restaurants, bars, pubs, sports arenas, nightclubs, bingo halls and
Bar owners, who fear the ban could help drive them out of business, will go to court later this month in a bid to have the new laws thrown out.
But the city is confident the court will back its argument that it had to act to protect public health.
Alex Munter, chairman of the city's health, recreation and social services committee, said around 100 nonsmokers a year in Ottawa died from the consequences of inhaling secondhand smoke.
``Where it's quite clear there is a serious health issue you have to do something,'' he told Reuters.
Ottawa police have set up a special unit to patrol bars and restaurants to ensure that no one is smoking. From September 4, owners of establishments who allow patrons to light up can be fined up to C$5,000 for repeat offenses.
Around 40 other Canadian cities and towns have already imposed smoking bans but Ottawa's is particularly tough. Unlike other municipalities, it does not allow bars and restaurants to build separate ventilated smoking rooms. It does, however, permit smoking on outdoor patios.
Munter dismissed fears that the ban could drive smokers across the river to the neighboring town of Hull in the French-speaking province of Quebec.
``Polls show that people will go out more often to places which don't allow smoking,'' Munter said.
Bar owners dispute this and are pinning their hopes on the court case due to be heard on August 27 and 28 in Ottawa.
``If we lose, it will be disastrous,'' said Barry McKay, head of the newly formed Pub and Bar Coalition of Ontario (PUBCO), which represents half of Ottawa's 350 bars and pubs.
``Some bar owners are already on the verge of packing it in. In the average bar some 60% of patrons smoke,'' he told Reuters, saying that in the southern Ontario town of Waterloo, some 30 bars had shut down in the last 12 months after a smoking ban was imposed.
McKay said he was not convinced by Munter's arguments on either the health risks posed by secondhand smoke or the economic benefits of a smoking ban.
``If there's money to be made from nonsmokers why isn't there a single nonsmoking bar in Ottawa?'' he asked.
Munter, meanwhile, predicted PUBCO would fail in its bid to have the court overturn the ban.
``This is very similar to lawsuits in other regions which have been struck down in all their elements,'' he said, also citing a recent Supreme Court ruling on pesticides, which stated clearly that municipalities had the right to create laws designed to protect public health.
``It seems strange to us now, but there was a time when you could smoke in movie theaters and shopping malls. Changing laws to protect people's health seems par for the course now,'' Munter added.