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Huffing and puffing

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Public hearings were held on a general set of regulations banning ETS from the workplace, but at the time bars, restaurants and entertainment venues were exempted. These establishments were later included by the WCB, but no new public hearings were held on the issue.

The same day that the regulations were struck down, the WCB reasserted its mandate to ban smoking around all employees, including those in the bar and restaurant industries. Over the spring and summer of 2000 they held public hearings and completed an economic study of the issue, which was ordered by former NDP Labour Minister Joy MacPhail.

That study recognized that there would be short-term impacts to business, but in every case where smoking bans have been implemented – including Scotland, California and Vermont – there was no long-term loss of revenues, closures, or impacts on tourism.

While first quarter liquor sales at hotels, restaurants, cabarets and pubs were down in 2000 when compared to the previous year, the report says they were still ahead of 1998 tallies. Hotel tallies were significantly down, restaurant figures were up, and pubs and cabaret sales were down slightly. At the same time, overall sales of beer, wine and spirits dipped to their lowest point in over a year at the start of the ban. But by the time the ban was lifted sales were above average. The report also estimates that liquor licencees lost less than $10 million in revenues during the duration of the first ban, which is significantly less than the $100 million they claimed.

Because the original ban was in place for less than three months, there is no way to predict what the long term effects of a smoking ban will be, but based on experiments in Europe and the U.S., business either remained the same or increased. There was less employee absenteeism as a result of second hand smoke, and staff morale improved. And while customers may have stayed away in the beginning to protest the new laws, they either came back or were replaced by non-smokers who avoided smoking areas in the past. Even some smokers had positive things to say about the law.

After holding four public forums across the province, and studying the economic impact, the WCB amended the ETS regulation to allow smoking indoors, but only in separately ventilated rooms. Staff are not allowed to work in those rooms while they are in use.