Canada's weapons in smoke wars
From smoking bans in effect Jan. 1 to stricter tobacco warning labels,
The bartenders at Fred's Uptown Tavern in Vancouver are so opposed to a new ban on public smoking - aimed at protecting their health - that they are suiting up in hygienic overalls and gas masks. That way they can still light their customers' cigarettes, and stay within the law.
But their novel protest isn't likely to move authorities.
Exposure to secondhand smoke has been designated an important workplace health issue. As of Jan. 1, the Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia has effectively banned smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars, restaurants, casinos, hotels, nursing homes - and even prisons.
It's "the most comprehensive workplace protection from secondhand smoke in Canada," says Dr. Perry Kendall, chief public health officer for British Colombia.
The new standards give business owners several options for protecting workers from smoke, including outright prohibition of smoking, a provision for a separately ventilated smokers' break area, or "other equally effective means." This is where the gas masks at Fred's come in.
While these restrictions are cutting edge in Canada, they're just catching up to antismoking measures in some US states and cities. Still, on other fronts, Canada is breaking new ground in battling health risks associated with smoking.
"From a global point of view, what we do in Canada is important," says David Sweanor, an international consultant and lawyer at the Non-Smokers' Rights Association in Ottawa. "Canada can play a role in the fight against the multinationals" that are the major players in the tobacco industry worldwide.
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