Cars filled with both smoke and children may soon become illegal in Ontario.
Earlier this month, Ottawa’s community and protective services committee passed a motion endorsing a provincial bill that is seeking to ban smoking in motor vehicles with children aged 16 years and younger.
The private member’s bill, introduced in the Ontario Legislature by Liberal MP David Orazietti, would authorize police officers to pull over contravening vehicles. A first offender would incur a maximum fine of $200, but any subsequent conviction would trigger an automatic $1,000 fine.
Susan Jones, Ottawa’s director of bylaw and regulatory services, said the motion in favour of a ban will be sent to the entire city council later this month. If council votes to support a ban, Ottawa will then notify the provincial government and officially register its backing for the bill.
Wolfville, N.S., was the first Canadian municipality to ban smoking in cars transporting children. A bill passed last November will take effect this June.
In Ontario, regulations regarding vehicles fall under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. This enables cities and towns to register their support for a ban, but not to legislate one themselves.
The Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, a coalition of health agencies such as the Ontario Lung Association, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario Division, and the Ontario Medical Association, is actively supporting a ban.
Director Michael Perley said the coalition has been lobbying members of the provincial legislature and he is confident the bill will pass eventually. But Perley is concerned that a free vote on a private member’s bill would not have the same authority as a government initiative.
“We would rather see it passed as a government bill,” he said, explaining that if the minister of health promotion, Margaret Best, got behind the bill, it would command more resources and ensure a stronger implementation of the ban.
“A public education campaign would have to precede the introduction of a ban,” he added.
A survey conducted by the Ontario Medical Association in 2003 indicates that 73.2 per cent of respondents were in favour of a law that “prohibits parents from smoking inside a car if children are present.”
In a 2004 position paper, the OMA estimated that “exposure to SHS (second-hand-smoke) in a vehicle is 23 times more toxic than in a house.”
But not everyone agrees that second-hand smoke has detrimental health effects.
Arminda Mota, president of MyChoice.ca, an advocacy group that defends the rights of adult smokers, said smoking bans are misguided.
“There is no serious evidence to justify a ban,” she said. “The numbers vary from study to study.”
Mota called smoking bans “feel-good policies” that criminalize parents and are tantamount to social engineering.
“We do not advise anyone to smoke in the presence of children,” she said. “It’s common sense and you can’t legislate common sense.”
Pointing to the high taxes levied on cigarettes, Mota said Canadian smokers pay about $5 billion more in tobacco taxes than what they cost in health-care services.
Mota also raised the question of enforcement, saying it would not be as straightforward as pulling over a speeding car. She suggested that if second-hand smoke represented a significant health risk, governments would outlaw smoking all together instead of devising discriminatory, partial bans.
But according to Ottawa police Const. Jean-Paul Vincelette, arresting motorists for smoking offences would be no more difficult than issuing citations to drivers and passengers who are not wearing seatbelts or can’t produce proof of insurance.
“A lot of laws within the Highway Traffic Act are enforceable when officers fall upon it,” he said.
Vincelette said traffic officers are sometimes asked to focus on certain offences during designated months. He speculated that some officers would likely make it their mission to pay more attention to smoking offences.
On the same day the motion supporting a ban was passed by the community and protective services committee in Ottawa, the World Health Organization released a report warning of a “tobacco epidemic.” It predicted that tobacco use is on pace to kill up to a billion people worldwide by the end of this century.
Protecting people from tobacco smoke is one of the leading strategies promoted by the WHO in its campaign against the health hazards associated with smoking.