Smokers, take it outside

Nunavut’s tough new regulations take effect May 1


Nunavummiut will have to head outdoors on May 1 if they want to smoke anywhere but a private residence as new, tough, anti-smoking regulations from the Worker’s Compensation Board come into effect across Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

The Environmental Tobacco Smoke Work Site Regulations, adopted last November, mean that after May 1 no one can smoke in or even near an enclosed work site, such as an office building, business, bar or restaurant, where others are on the job.

“We’re expecting employers to do due diligence on their responsibility in the same way they would with accident prevention,” said Terry Cameron, chief industrial safety officer for the WCB in Iqaluit.

Charm and willing compliance is how Cameron, an ex-smoker himself, expects to ensure agreement with the new regulations. So far, he said calls to the WCB from employers for information had been largely positive.

The WCB is planning a “blitz” on Nunavut workplaces after May 1 to inform employers, workers and the public on how to achieve a smoke-free workplace.

Fines for non-compliance are $500 for individuals and $5000 for businesses. Cameron and the WCB’s five other industrial safety officers in Nunavut are all peace officers, with the right to enforce the regulations.

“We will be trying to help with it. But technically, as of May 1, that’s it. We’re going to be reasonable, but the bottom line is that it’s here,” Cameron said.

According to the WCB, smokers must stand three metres away from workplaces and stick to special smoking areas, when provided.

These regulations affect everyone from students, who can no longer light up outside school doors, to municipal vehicle drivers who work in an enclosed space and can’t smoke on the job.

The only exceptions in the regulations are for underground miners, who will have their own special smoking site set aside, and people who live in an enclosed work site, such as an elders’ centre or jail, where there can be a well-ventilated place set aside for smoking.

Employers are generally in favour of the new regulations, because less smoking at the workplace means less time is lost due to smoke breaks, absenteeism or smoking-related fires.

Cutting down on smoke in the workplace also means employers are less likely to get sued for endangering the health of their workers. To date, the board has received three claims involving environmental tobacco smoke.

Cutting down on exposure to second-hand or environmental smoke should also reduce death and illness due to smoking. One study showed bartenders’ health dramatically improved one month after their workplace became smokefree.

Smoke-free work places also can reduce daily consumption among smokers and help them quit or cut back on their tobacco use.

Dr. Jim Talbot, the chief medical officer for Nunavut, said he applauds the WCB for its move to smoke-free workplaces.

“It’s another good incentive,” Dr. Talbot said.

At the same time, Nunavut’s health department plans to step up its message about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke.

Two-thirds of all adults in Nunavut smoke, a survey conducted for the NWT Department of Health and Social Services in 1996 revealed. Among Inuit, the prevalence of smoking is even greater: 70 per cent of Inuit in Nunavut smoke, a rate of addiction more than two-and-a-half times the Canadian average.

Nearly all of these smokers start before they’re out of their teens. Heavy smoking takes a toll on Nunavummiut’s health. Fatal lung cancer caused by smoking is three times more prevalent among Inuit men than the Canadian population as a whole. Lung cancer rates among Inuit women are five times the national average.

Overall, Nunavut has more new cases of lung cancer per year, more potential years of life lost and higher mortality rates than the rest of Canada.

Second-hand smoke also affects babies, before and after birth, and can lead to prematurity, respiratory illnesses, nervous disorders and hearing impairments.

With so many smokers in the territory, the new regulations may not be welcomed with open arms.

In 1996, members of health boards in the Keewatin and Baffin regions of Nunavut, managed to overturn an edict that would have banned smoking in all public places, including restaurants. The controversial ban was lifted just before it was supposed to take effect, and only after regional health boards vowed publicly to develop long-term no-smoking strategies.

British Columbia is the only other jurisdiction in Canada where a WCB has limited smoking in work places, but Victoria, B.C., Ottawa, Ont., New York City, the entire state of California and Ireland, with its numerous pubs, also have moved to totally smoke-free work places or will shortly.

Governments generally support these smoke-free regulations, because less smoking results in fewer costs to the health care system, although Bernie Blais, deputy minister for Nunavut’s department of health, said it may be 10 years before there is any noticeable difference in the territory’s health costs.

The GN is also implementing its Tobacco Control Act that regulates the sale of tobacco to those over 19, clamps down on advertising and also restricts smoking in public places and workplaces.

This act is even tougher on smoking around schools and says no person can smoke in a 15-metre radius around an exit or entrance to a school.

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