The issue of smoking on patios at restaurants and bars continues to smoulder in the City of Weyburn, as it was recommended consultation take place before changes in the smoking laws are made locally.
Some residents have taken issue with the fact that smoking on the patios of public restaurants and bars is still an allowed practice, ruining their dining experience and posing a health risk to servers.
Under provincial legislation smoking on patios is still legal, despite the province’s own recognition of the negative effects of smoking and second-hand smoke on the population — suing tobacco companies under the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.
The province passed up the opportunity to outlaw smoking on patios when it amended the Tobacco Control Act in 2009 though, off-loading the decision to municipalities, allowing them to make their own legislation and also allowing individual businesses the choice to ban smoking on their patios.
In Weyburn, the idea of a smoking ban on public patios wasn’t outright refused by the local business community, but Jeff Richards, manager of the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce, did recommend consultation between stakeholders before any steps are taken.
“We are always cautious when a business spends a lot of money, making a significant investment to comply with a regulation and then the regulation is soon thereafter changed,” said Richards, speaking to the fact that some businesses have added decks and patios to accommodate smokers while complying with provincial regulations.
“For example, to put a deck on the side of a restaurant is not a weekend project that you do for $500. It’s important that you have some continuity in regulatory structure, so that you can do long-term planning,” said Richards.
The process of consultation was a sentiment echoed by Mayor Debra Button, saying that the city considers all concerns brought forward by residents, but discussion with businesses as well as other community stakeholders affected would be a necessary part of the process.
Minister of Health and Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA, Dustin Duncan did not return requests for interviews and was unavailable for comment.
Saskatchewan’s biggest city, Saskatoon, was the first to take action on the issue of smoking on patios, banning it even before provincial legislation took effect in 2005.
“The reason we had a smoking ban on patios was to have a smoking ban everywhere,” said Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison.
With an eye on what could be coming in the future, the city decided to take the plunge and ban all smoking in public places in one fell swoop.
“We decided to ban (public smoking) all at once instead of doing it in bite sizes,” said Atchison. The municipality also took the initiative to ban smoking in public places to even the playing field among the city’s businesses.
“We did it so that no one would have an edge over someone else. I don’t think the smokers are overly thrilled about it still, but we haven’t had a public outcry about the non-smoking policy,” said Atchison.
Leaving the ban up to individual businesses would have put those that voluntarily banned smoking on patios at a disadvantage, driving smokers to restaurants and bars that would allow smoking.
The public smoking ban has had positive effects in Saskatoon though, according to a report from the Saskatoon Health Region.
The prevalence of people smoking in Saskatoon fell from 24.1 per cent of the population in 2003, before the smoking ban, down to 18.2 per cent in 2005. The prevalence of smokers province-wide remained unchanged through the period, staying constant at about 24 per cent of the population.
The reduction in the number of smokers had an impact on the overall health of the community as well. During the first year of the smoking ban, Saskatoon saw the heart attack rate of residents drop by 10 per cent compared to the five years previous, to about 148 cases for every 100,000 people, down from 165 cases.
Atchison was hesitant to say the ban was widely accepted in the city though.
“I wouldn’t use the word widely accepted,” said Atchison, “I would say the laws are the laws here and people are pretty good at adhering to the laws …our phones haven’t been ringing one way or the other.”
When the provincial legislation was being considered to ban smoking on public patios it was the businesses community, most notably the hospitality industry, that came out against the ban. Worries over drops in patronage topped the list of the industry’s concerns.
Atchison was also mindful of the impact the smoking ban had on businesses.
“There certainly was a decrease for some businesses right off the bat, then over a period of time it came back, but the question is, can you survive the downturn?” he said.
Residents who are concerned about smoking on public patios can have their voice heard by writing to city council, as well as their MLA.