Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Public smoking bans hit Ont., Que. (CBC News)

Smokers in Quebec and Ontario will be spending more time outside as laws that ban smoking in all enclosed public places kicked in at midnight Tuesday.

Laws that ban smoking in all enclosed public places kicked in at midnight Tuesday in Ontario and Quebec. (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

The Quebec government has vowed to crack down immediately, with inspectors fanning out to check bars, restaurants, bingo halls, shopping centres, and other facilities — even tents and churches.

Any business owner who allows illegal smoking will be fined $400 for a first violation of the new law.

Ontario, on the other hand, plans to phase in its legislation gradually. Although its law is also tough — banning cigarettes even in enclosed smoking rooms or partially roofed patios — the province plans to initially hand out warnings instead of fines to violators.

As well, people in many Ontario municipalities — including Ottawa and Toronto — have long faced bans on smoking in many public spaces.

Quebecers, on the other hand, have rarely been forced to butt out.

Quebec bars warn of economic trouble

Many bar and restaurant owners in Quebec have fiercely opposed the crackdown, predicting the new law would bring financial disaster, lead to job losses, lower video lottery terminal (VLT) revenues and slimmer profits for bars and restaurants.

But the provincial health minister, Philippe Couillard, dismissed concerns that a smoking ban would damage the economy and put bars out of business.

Couillard said the province hopes that banning tobacco use will drop the percentage of Quebecers who smoke to 20 per cent, from 23.

The ban is sound fiscal policy because any reduction will help the province reduce health-care costs, the health minister said.

He also dismissed the dire warnings that many bars and restaurants would fold because of the new ban.

He recalled the banning of cigarettes from drugstores in Quebec. At the time, retailers warned it meant imminent bankruptcy, Couillard said — but the financial disasters never materialized.

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