Enjoying food and drink on a restaurant patio is a great summertime tradition, but the experience can leave a bad taste in the mouths of patrons and servers alike; the cause, smokers and second hand smoke.
Although smoking was banned in public buildings, like restaurants and bars, since 2005, smoking on patios at these establishments are not. Removing smoking from patios is on the minds of anti-smoking advocates though.
“Our priority is outdoor patios of restaurants and bars, because that involves workers who have to service customers in those smokey, toxic environments,” said Donna Pasiechnik, manager of Tobacco Control for the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Cancer Society.
“It’s really unfair, we don’t believe that a worker should have to choose between their work and their health,” she said.
The province had the chance to outlaw smoking on patios during an amendment to the Tobacco Control Act in 2009. “Removing smoking on patios at restaurants and bars was on our list (of requests) the last time the Tobacco Control Act was amended, but unfortunately we didn’t get it,” said Pasiechnik.
With the Tobacco Control Act, the Saskatchewan government banned smoking in all public use buildings, in cars with children under 16, and also forced smokers to stand at least three meters from any door, window, or air intake of a public building, a rule that is still in effect on patios.
“We did a very broad consultation involving a number of stakeholders from a variety of sectors. In proposing legislation it was important to balance the needs of all those stakeholders, so at that time it was decided not to pursue legislation that banned smoking on patios,” said Nicole Nieminen, health promotion consultant with the Ministry of Health.
Stakeholders involved in the process included representatives from the province, health regions, health associations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, as well as representatives from the industries that would be affected by the ban, including hotels and restaurants among others.
At the time, Tom Mullin, president of the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan called the proposed ban on smoking on patios unfair, as the industry was still adjusting to having no indoor smoking.
Mullin said that, “we made the investment to cover off the smoking issue by building decks and having them outdoors and having our patrons having to go outside, so that should be enough.”
The province has also banned smoking in all private, enclosed workplaces with the Workplace Smoking Ban. However, since patios are considered open air, the workplace ban doesn’t apply.
Although the dangers of smoking and second hand smoke inhalation are well known, they are often dismissed in open air environments; the logic being that smoke dissipates quickly into the surrounding air. On patios though, said Pasiechnik, that isn’t always the case.
“If patios have high walls, and the big umbrellas to protect people from the sun, the smoke gets trapped under the umbrellas. Research has shown that in many cases the pollution levels in outdoor places are similar to indoor places depending on wind velocity and the type of structures present,” she said.
Although the province sets its own legislation on smoking, it also allows municipalities the option of setting their own rules regarding smoking, as long as the rules are more stringent than what the province has already put in place.
For example, Saskatoon has completely banned smoking in any public eatery, outlawing it in restaurants, bars, and sidewalk cafes. The legislation also covers patios.
Weyburn Mayor Debra Button said the city hasn’t passed any bylaws regarding smoking on patios largely because of a lack of public input on it; the city receiving very few if any complaints on the subject.
Button said the city is certainly open to looking at smoking legislation change, as with any concern brought forward by residents. “We look at any changes or betterment we can make with the community.”
Any changes to municipal smoking bylaws would have to be a collaborative process though said Button, involving the public, the health region, and businesses owners who would likely be affected by any changes.
In the past some Weyburn residents and businesses were hesitant to embrace new smoking legislation though. In 2005, when provincial legislation banned smoking in bars and other public places, hundreds of residents protested outside the Weyburn courthouse in support of Weyburn bar owner, Rob Joyal. He had received $4,500 in fines for allowing smoking to continue in the Royal Hotel after the ban had come into effect.
Allowing the municipalities the ability to create their own bylaws regarding smoking has created a patchwork of legislation across the province, with most municipalities following provincial legislation. Nieminen said that it is common practice for the province to allow municipalities to make bylaws that go above and beyond the provincial regulations.
Pasiechnik said she would like to see the province move to ban smoking on patios outright though. “We would like to see the provincial government move in this direction and ban it right across the province, creating a level playing field for all workers and patrons.”
Saskatchewan wouldn’t be the first province to ban smoking on restaurant patios either, with several provinces, including neighbouring Alberta, already banning it.
The province has recognized the negative aspects attributed to smoking and second hand smoke, launching campaigns to educate the public on its negative effects and providing services to help smokers quit.
Under the Act to Recover Damages and Health Care Costs legislation, the province has also joined with several others in suing tobacco companies in an attempt to reclaim some of the money spent on health care and treating the harmful side effects of tobacco.
The lawsuit could be of particular interest to the Saskatchewan government because of the high percentage of smokers in the province. Saskatchewan has the highest percentage of smokers in all provinces according to Statistics Canada, with nearly a quarter, 23.8 per cent, of residents smoking in 2011.
Although Saskatchewan residents lead the provinces in smoking, they certainly are not the Canadian leaders, with all the territories having a higher percentage of smokers. Nunavut has the highest percentage of smokers in Canada, with more than half of residents, 59.7 per cent, smoking.
The province’s campaign to combat smoking and reduce second hand smoke inhalation had some success though, with the number of smokers in the province trending downward, from 26 per cent in 2006 to 23.8 per cent in 2011.
Attitudes towards smoking are changing across the province. “It’s great to see that as we get more smoke free environments to live in, people become less tolerant of second hand smoke,” said Pasiechnik.
Attitudes among smokers are also likely changing said Pasiechnik, as they become more and more used to having to leave buildings and even maintain a certain distance from them in order to smoke.
Although the Canadian Cancer Society continues to advocate for changes to the provincial legislation Pasiechnik said there isn’t currently anything on the horizon in terms of new legislation.
Nieminen also said that although the provincial government doesn’t currently have any changes to the Tobacco Control Act planned, they do regularly review legislation.
In the short term, any changes to smoking regulations would have to come at the municipal level.