Province prepared to oppose smoking ban in bars and restaurants Starting Jan. 1, bars and restaurants across the province will be asking smokers to take it outside, in accordance with a new Workers’ Compensation Board law intended to protect workers from the dangers of second-hand smoke. But if the end result of this legislation is a large number of people staying at home or taking their tourism business elsewhere, Premier Dan Miller is prepared to step in in order to save jobs. "If, in my view, there is an unintended consequence, in other words, a negative impact where jobs are at stake, then I may see if there are alternative mechanisms available," Miller told Broadcast News Dec. 17. One of the "alternative mechanisms" suggested by restaurant and bar owners is the installation of improved ventilation systems, but the WCB has stated that they haven't heard of a system that works. The restaurant industry has said the province-wide ban could be catastrophic to their businesses. However, similar bans already in effect in Victoria and California have shown that the volume of business will remain virtually unchanged. Although the WCB regulations fall outside the provincial government's jurisdiction, Miller, who is a smoker, says that a compromise could be reached. He points to the example of prisons, which use separately ventilated rooms and private outdoor locations to protect workers. If it's proven that jobs are being lost, Miller would like to see a similar compromise worked out in restaurants and bars. "In many parts of our province, we are just coming out of a pretty tough recession," he says. "Many establishments have gone through a very difficult time. They're hanging on, quite frankly, by their fingernails. I'll be watching the impact very closely." In Whistler, restaurants and bars owned and operated by Whistler-Blackcomb started enforcing the WCB law as soon as they opened for the winter season — without experiencing any loss of business. According to Marilyn McIvor, tobacco reduction co-ordinator for the Coast Garibaldi Health Services Society and a member of the Whistler Tobacco Task Force, the rest of Whistler's bars are ready to follow suit. "Most of the bars and restaurants I've talked to are planning on complying, and most of the workers I've talked to are looking forward to it," she says. If the provincial government becomes involved, says McIvor, "they should look at solid economic data before interfering with the WCB. "These regulations have taken years to develop. They came from the workers; same as with the airlines going smoke-free. They were actually approved in April, 1998, but bars and restaurants were given until Jan. 1, 2000 to get into compliance." For those restaurants and bars who need assistance in complying, the task force has been distributing posters, stickers and tent cards that explain the new regulations to employees and patrons. The task force will not be responsible for enforcing the regulation, but rather to help the transition go smoothly. Enforcement, according to McIvor, will be mainly complaint-driven. The WCB has set up an anonymous 'snitch' line — 1-800-318-7390 — where anybody can report a bar's non-compliance. For a first-time offence, the bar or restaurant will be sent a letter by the Ministry of Health explaining the new regulation and asking them to comply. The second offence gets another letter, and so does the third, with stronger language and a warning that the fourth offence will be turned over to the WCB. The WCB then investigates the complaints, weighs the evidence, and decides whether to fine the establishment. "You have to keep in mind that a large majority of the bar population and bar workers are under 25," says McIvor. "These regulations are to protect young workers and patrons from the hazards of second-hand smoke." If you are a non-smoker and want to show your support for the regulations, McIvor suggests supporting the bars who comply. And don't expect a last minute reprieve from the government. "Parliament has already gone on break for the holidays. On Jan. 1, like it or not, these regulations are going to become law."