TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government plans to amend legislation to ban smoking on all restaurant and bar patios as well as at playgrounds and sports fields, Health Minister Deb Matthews announced Wednesday.
Restaurant and bar owners know that the majority of people don't want to be exposed to second-hand smoke on patios, Matthews said as she announced a series of measures to lower Ontario's smoking rate.
"I think they understand that this was coming," she said. "About 70 per cent of Ontarians actually want to ban smoking on patios because they're people like me. I love to sit outside on a patio, but I don't like being surrounded by smoke."
The Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association complained the government didn't consult the sector before announcing the patio ban, and said there was a real "fear" among some business owners that they will lose customers, and money.
"Smokers will still go outside near the patio and they will puff cigarettes at passersby who are not expecting a puff of smoke," said association CEO Tony Elenis. "Under the existing regulations, which we are happy with, customers and businesses make a choice."
The New Democrats were worried the Liberals wouldn't have the resolve to stand up to the expected opposition to the smoking ban on patios.
"You have to be ready to defend this to a lot of people who will push back, and my experience with them is when there is a push back they disappear into the woods," said NDP health critic France Gelinas.
Ontario will also bar tobacco sales on college and university campuses, double fines for stores that sell cigarettes to minors, and will ban all sales of candy- and fruit-flavoured tobacco products, not just prohibit sales to minors.
The Canadian Cancer Society applauded Matthews for taking steps to reduce the smoking rate, noting that tobacco claims 13,000 lives in Ontario annually.
"The restrictions on the sales of tobacco and on smoking in parks and hospital grounds — and the monumental ban of smoking on all patios — will go a long way to reducing second-hand smoke exposures to workers and patrons," said Cancer Society spokeswoman Rowena Pinto.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation said flavours are used "to seduce youth to a product that kills," and called the Ontario government "courageous" for banning smoking on restaurant and bar patios.
"Seeing people smoke on patios and having fun, socializing with cigarettes, normalizes the behaviour and drives a false impression that this is a desirable lifestyle choice," said foundation director Mark Holland. "Young people who see smokers on patios get a skewed view of the number of people who smoke."
The Ontario bill would extend the current prohibition on selling flavoured tobacco cigarillos and chewing tobacco to youth to a total sales ban, although there would be an exemption for menthol cigarettes which Matthews said are preferred by adults.
The province had passed a private member's bill by the NDP's Gelinas in 2010 to ban flavoured tobacco products from minors, and while she welcomes the total ban on sales, she's not convinced the government will follow through.
"I want to be happy, but I feel like I'm lacking confidence at this point that it will actually happen," said Gelinas.
The Ontario government believes many youth start smoking with cigarillos that taste like chocolate or strawberry or even those named after popular alcohol drinks.
"The flavours that are really targeted at the kids are the 'appletini' and 'pina colada' type flavours," said Matthews. "We wanted to get at this marketing to children, and I don't think menthol falls in that category."
However, Casa Cubana, the Quebec-based company that markets flavoured cigarillos, pointed out that menthol is the only flavour additive used by the big tobacco companies, which don't produce the candy-flavoured tobacco products.
The Ontario government is targeting smaller companies like Casa Cubana without any evidence to show that flavoured tobacco products entice young people to start smoking or that the majority of users are underage, said spokesman Luc Martial.
"Flavoured tobacco products represent less than half of one per cent of all tobacco products sold in our country," said Martial. "The bill is about shocking people about how the industry is supposedly targeting kids, but that's a lie."
The proposed Ontario legislation would also ban other flavoured products such as twist sticks, dissolvable strips and lozenges if they contain tobacco, but not if they have only nicotine without tobacco.
The Canadian Cancer Society warned the lozenges, which look like candies and come in colourful packages, contain three times as much nicotine as a smoked cigarette.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne announced last week his government would adopt a private member's bill aimed at stopping the sale of flavoured tobacco.
Ontario's smoking rate was nearly 25 per cent in 2000 and has since fallen to about 19 per cent. "This hasn't happened by accident," said Matthews. "B.C. is 14.5 per cent — the lowest in the country — so we're about halfway to where we want to be."