Customers blow smoke rings around bylaw

Many continue to light up despite new regulation



Tobacco users relaxed in their favourite coffee shops, blowing smoke rings at the city of Iqaluit’s tough new anti-smoking bylaw as it went into effect this past Tuesday.

Nunavut’s capital city is the first community in the Canadian Arctic to pass such a bylaw, which restricts smoking in all public places, except bars, and within three metres of all public entrances.

Threatening all along that they would not comply with the new regulation when the time came, outspoken opposers put their smokes where their mouths were and lit up.

By mid-morning, Robert Cavanaugh, the city’s chief bylaw officer, had already received numerous calls from frustrated shop owners claiming that despite the new law, “They’re smoking anyway.”

“We heard a lighter going — heard it but didn’t see it — and I was like, ‘You might as well not flick it on the floor.’ So I gave him an ashtray,” shop owner Elisapee Sheutiapik said with a deep, raspy laugh.

Sheutiapik and her partner Brian Twerdin run the Grind and Brew Café, a small room with metal chairs, enameled wood tables and a few video gambling machines. And while Twerdin pours coffee for sleepy-eyed early risers, Sheutiapik is seated at a table chatting up a handful of regulars.

Despite the fact that the non-smoking bylaw could all but extinguish business at their homey little hang-out, there doesn’t appear to be a dark cloud lingering over the mood.

With a grin from ear to ear, Sheutiapik hollers out to Twerdin with some homegrown northern humour, “Hey Brian, Joe here can’t smoke anymore so he’s smoking all the char,” she says as the tiny room erupts in laughter.

Sitting across from Joe is ex-smoker Derrick Smith. Smith is just as riled up over the new law as his die-hard-smoker friends.

“It really killed the ambiance of the shop. I don’t smoke, but there’s probably six people who are usually here that aren’t here this morning. It’s the company [that’s missing],” Smith remarked.

“You could very easily put up a sign saying this is a smoking establishment, and people could make their choice accordingly,” he added.

Sheutiapik is not only a coffee shop owner, she’s also one of eight city councillors who voted on the bylaw, sort of. When it came down to the third and final vote, Sheutiapik actually walked out of council chambers, refusing to even witness the passing of the law.

“I left the room because I know that most of my customers here do smoke, and already some of them are not here this morning,” she explained.

The issue was hotly debated in council on several occasions before the bylaw finally passed on Feb. 28. At one stage, council passed a motion restricting people from smoking within 10 metres of all public entrances.

Some councillors argued that the distance was too extreme, saying that one would have to go across the road or to the next block to get 10 metres away from any entrance, and that in so doing, they might find themselves in front of another entrance.

The point was eventually taken, and the distance changed to three metres — much to the disappointment of former deputy mayor Kirt Ejesiak, who fought hard to keep it at 10 metres.

The city planned to distribute information kits to all affected business owners a week before the bylaw kicked in. However, the kits weren’t ready on time and instead were delivered the day before.

And even before that, Sheutiapik told council she was already getting flak from a few of her customers, who were dropping hints that they had no intention of complying either way.

For now the city has resigned itself to carrying a soft stick when it comes to enforcement, Cavanaugh admitted.

“Our strategy in the first three weeks is to communicate with the business owners and give out warnings. We’re not going to come out with an iron fist on the first day and fine people,” he said.

And on this day, anyway, Sheutiapik is still smiling.

“Hey Bill,” she yells out to a familiar face, “Want to buy some ashtrays?”

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