Little feedback on WCB anti-smoking regulations

Public consultation process smolders and dies



Response to the Workers’ Compensation Board’s open consultation process regarding new smoking regulations, which would ban smoking in all workplace environments, was absolutely dismal across Nunavut, according to WCB records.

In March, the WCB sent out consultation papers to 650 Nunavut stakeholders soliciting comments on the proposed regulations.

But the WCB received only 31 responses, even after it extended the deadline by two weeks. Out of the total responses, 12 expressed support for the regulation. The remaining 27 didn’t necessarily agree with the tough new approach but did concede that environmental tobacco smoke was a serious issue.

The board also set up a toll-free hotline to record public input, however, in Iqaluit not a single call was made.

Last week, the WCB board of directors from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut announced its intention to go ahead with its Feb. 27 decision to develop a strategy to prevent and control workers’ exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in the workplace.

That means no smoking in any workplace – including bars.

Chris Groves, president of the Iqaluit branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, did not return phone calls by press-time and John Graham, manager of the bar, would not comment on the impending regulations.

Sylvia Tuckwood, assistant general manager of the Frobisher Inn, had plenty of positive things to say about the consequences such regulations might have on the new Tulugaq Bar.

“The new bar is going to be 90 per cent non-smoking anyway,” Tuckwood said.

“And if the new WCB regulation goes into effect, we’ll honour it. I think it will be a good thing. A lot of people don’t smoke,” she added.

Andy Wong, chairperson of the WCB, said the decision to regulate environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace is a result of extensive research and consultation regarding the hazards posed to workers by secondhand smoke.

“What prompted this decision was simply occupational health and safety. Medically speaking, we know that secondhand smoke is a workplace hazard. It kills,” Wong said.

He said he believes there is broad public support for this initiative.

“We have spoken with the hospitality industry in Yellowknife – the main business centre in the NWT – and the overwhelming comment we get from them is ‘We know this is coming down,'” Wong explained.

“I think there is a realization everywhere that a smoking ban in the workplace is something that would happen sooner or later.”

If the regulations get past the Government of Nunavut, which itself is pushing hard for similar regulations, Nunavut and the NWT will have been prescribed the toughest anti-smoking laws in the country.

The only other place in Canada with similar restrictions is the province of British Columbia, where smoking in all workplaces has been outlawed, expect for establishments that have a separate ventilated space.

That’s not an option for the Nunavut and NWT board members, Wong said.

“You cannot have a total ban and ventilation at the same time. The ventilator space option does not work in terms of the elimination of secondhand smoke in the workplace.”

The only reason B.C. has the ventilator space option is because the government at the time said it wouldn’t entertain such strict regulations without that option, Wong explained.

“The inclusion of the ventilator space option in B.C. was a compromise,” he said.

The new regulations will be developed over the summer before the board reconvenes in September for a final vote. Once the board has made its final approval and determined an enforcement date, that information will be forwarded to the NWT and Nunavut ministers responsible for the WCB.

And although the territorial board intends to discourage the ventilator space option, ultimately the regulations will need to be signed off by Kelvin Ng, Nunavut’s minister responsible for the WCB, and NWT minister Joseph Handley, who may insist on changes before offering up their signatures.

“In September, the board will reveal the drafted regulation to the GN, which will not include the ventilator space option. At that time, those regulations will still have to go through Minister Handley and Minister Ng for their signature,” Wong said.

“Until the regulations satisfy their needs they may or may not have to sign it.”

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