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Smoke-free By-laws - An Effective Means of Reducing Exposure to Second-hand Smoke

I Introduction

In Ontario, more and more communities are becoming increasingly concerned over the need for smoke-free by-laws. As this concern intensifies, communities are becoming more active, and local governments are becoming increasingly cognizant of the fact that smoke-free by-laws are a vital and effective means of reducing the effects of tobacco, the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Ontario.

It has been proven that a comprehensive approach is needed in order to ensure the elimination of second-hand smoke. This includes public education through mass media, price increases, funding of youth programs, legislation, and enactment and enforcement of this legislation. Although province-wide legislation would be most effective in ensuring that the harmful effects of second-hand smoke are reduced, many communities have undertaken the process to advocate for smoke-free legislation at the municipal level.

II Background

In 1994 the Ontario Municipal Act was amended, authorizing municipalities to enact by-laws to control smoking in public places and workplaces. At that time, many communities began to avail of the assistance and advice of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco (OCAT). OCAT provided advice concerning strategies necessary for the successful development of by-laws to local smoke-free councils, boards of health, municipal councils and other interested parties. OCAT continues to be one of the foremost organizations that communities turn to for assistance at all stages of by-law development.

Currently in Ontario, over 100 municipalities have by-laws that ban or restrict smoking in at least some public places and workplaces. Of these, Ottawa, Waterloo and Guelph lead the way with their 100% smoke-free restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, billiards halls and bingo halls, with no allowance for a designated smoking room (DSR). Many other communities follow with less stringent by-laws but with at least some level of protection and plans to strengthen the legislation in the future. As more and more municipalities become successful in passing by-laws, the number of municipalities expressing an interest is increasing.

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III Ottawa Report

In Ottawa alone, about 100 non-smokers die each and every year because of exposure to second-hand smoke. During public consultations, businesses told the city that they wanted the by-laws to be fair, asking for a level playing field among establishments. A single step strategy requires the public to adjust to the changes only once. A 100% smoke-free by-law that comes into effect for all public places and workplaces at the same time protects all workers starting on the same date. (1)

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Cushman, recommended 100% smoke-free by-laws, and sent regular communiqués on the issue to City Councillors, visited newspaper editorial boards and held more than 10 well-attended public consultations throughout Ottawa. (2) After a public debate of the issue, hosted by the Health, Recreation and Social Services Committee, Ottawa City Council unanimously passed the 100% smoke-free by-law, with full support from Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli, and conducted a successful social marketing campaign.

As of August 1, 2001, Ottawa's workplaces and public places -- including restaurants and bars -- are all 100% smoke-free with no designated smoking rooms. An Ottawa Sun poll, released in December 2001, found that nearly one-third of residents were going out to restaurants and bars more often since the ban was imposed. (3)

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IV Support Organizations

A number of organizations funded under the Ontario Tobacco Strategy work together to provide communities and municipalities with the most complete and relevant support services and information to assist with the various stages of by-law development (including development, passage and implementation). All of these organizations are involved in various activities related to tobacco control, and are committed to the pursuit of smoke-free environments. In the absence of provincial action, a municipality-by-municipality approach to by-law implementation is the approach that must be taken.

The Ontario Tobacco-free Network (OTN), which works with local tobacco-free coalitions around the province, has produced the Go for Gold -- Become 100% Smoke-free! map, which highlights those Ontario municipalities that have 100% smoke-free by-laws. The map provides standards of second-hand smoke exposure in Ontario hospitality and recreational premises. Communities are encouraged to use the map to challenge their local municipalities. This has proven to be successful in encouraging at least two municipalities to enact stricter by-laws in order to obtain the gold standard.

The Program Training and Consultation Centre (PTCC) provides training and consultation services to assist communities with implementing community-based strategies to reduce tobacco use. The PTCC is very much involved with by-law education at the local level, providing workshops and producing materials that are useful for communities at various stages of by-law development.

The Media Network provides tobacco control advocates with pertinent information on tobacco control issues. The Media Network also supports the development of by-laws through the provision of media backgrounders and through enhancing media coverage of tobacco control and related issues.

The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit (OTRU) conducts research, monitoring and evaluation that contributes to programs and policies to eliminate tobacco-related health problems in Ontario. Research and information from OTRU is central to the preparation of strategies that many communities employ in their work to implement smoke-free by-laws.

The Smoking and Action Foundation (SHAF) conducts policy research and education designed to reduce tobacco-related disease and death. SHAF provides a crucial bridge between academics, government policy-makers and the broader health community. The research conducted by SHAF provides the basis for many communities in their by-law work, offering research-based facts that verify the harmful effects of tobacco and second-hand smoke.

The National Clearinghouse on Tobacco and Health (NCTH) acts as a provider of up to date information, trends, research and other issues related to tobacco control. The NCTH will provide communities with a variety of the most current information to assist with the development of smoke-free by-laws.

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V Conclusion

As reported in OTRU's Seventh Annual Monitoring Report (November 2001), the Association of Municipalities of Ontario passed a resolution at their August 2000 annual convention asking the provincial government to take over responsibility for protecting the health of Ontarians in public places and workplaces through the enactment of a provincial smoking policy. (4) Although this would provide the most overall effective means of ensuring protection from the harmful effects of tobacco and second-hand smoke, at this time it remains the responsibility of municipalities to work towards a smoke-free environment. With 9 in 10 Ontario adults supportive of smoke-free workplaces and smoke-free public places the time to act is now. (5)

If you are interested in becoming involved in implementing a smoke-free by-law in your community, contact the Ontario Tobacco-free Network ( for a listing of local tobacco-free coalitions across the province. In addition, visit the website of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco ( and click on The Smoke-free Lobby. An advocacy resource for persons interested in working towards a smoke-free Ontario, the Smoke-free Lobby contains information and tools for use when speaking with government officials at the provincial and municipal levels.

VI References

1. City of Ottawa. Smoke-free By-laws in the City of Ottawa. January 2002

2. City of Ottawa. Smoke-free By-laws in the City of Ottawa. January 2002.

3. City of Ottawa. Smoke-free By-laws in the City of Ottawa. January 2002

4. The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit. Monitoring the Ontario Tobacco Strategy, Seventh Annual Monitoring Report. November 2001.

5. Actions Will Speak Louder Than Words, Getting Serious About Tobacco Control in Ontario. A Report to the Minister of Health from her Expert Panel on the Renewal of the Ontario Tobacco Strategy. February 1999.