WCB told to butt out for good

Wednesday, January 16th, 2002

Health advocates furious that pubs get OK to set up smoking areas

Michael Smyth

FRED BASS ‘grossly wrong’

The crusade by the Work­ers Compensation Board to ban smoking in all B.C. pubs and restaurants will finally grind to a halt today.

The government will snuff out the WCB plan once and for all at a public cabinet meeting in Fort St. John, sources told The Province.

The WCB ban was origi­nally scheduled for imple­mentation last September but

was delayed while the province reviewed the issue.

In its place, the Liberals will intro­duce a “compro­mise” policy, allowing restau­rant and pub owners to set up smoking areas in

their establishments as long as the area is fitted with a ventilation system to suck out smoke.

Ventilation must be designed to protect pub and restaurant workers from sec­ond-hand smoke, even though anti-smoking groups say no one has invented a system that can do that. To address those concerns, the government is expected to bring in a new rule: Workers will be given the right to refuse to enter the smoking area.

Sources say the govern­ment will allow up to 45 per cent of the total area of a pub or restaurant to be designat­ed for smoking. And it will decree that workers can spend no more than 20 per cent of their working time in the smoking room.

Municipalities will still have the right to establish their own smoking bans within their own boundaries.

The plan will be present­ed as a compromise between factions that wanted a total smoking ban [mainly public ­health advocates and the WCB] and those who wanted wide-open smoking [mainly pub and restaurant owners].

It’s no coincidence the gov­ernment has selected Fort St. John to make the announce­ment: It’s bound to be popu­lar in the north, where smok­ers didn’t want to be forced outside to light up in sub-zero temperatures.

But employers will be faced with the cost of installing ven­tilation systems and chang­ing their floor plans.

Heather MacKenzie, presi­dent of Airspace Action on Smoking and Health, called the new rules “sick­ening,” adding: “Workers are being poisoned by second-hand smoke. Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers.” Said Vancou­ver Councilor Fred Bass, co-chair­man of the B.C. Medical Association’s tobac­co and illness committee: “There’s no scientific evi­dence or industrial standard that ventilation will get rid of the risk of spond-hand smoke. This decision is grossly wrong.”

Pharmacist Bev Harris, health advocate for the Clean Air Coalition, said second­hand smoke is “a known car­cinogen … it causes cancer.”

And she said overriding the WCB is “a dangerous, prece­dent-setting move.”

A complaint filed last fall over Labour Minister Graham Bruce’s decision to delay imposing the WCB ban is being investigated by the B.C. Human Rights Commission, said MacKenzie.

• Sources also say the gov­ernment is about to announce it will allow beer-­and-wine stores to sell hard liquor, beginning with about 20 outlets across B.C.

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