By Amy Fendley A new Workers’ Compensation Board regulation intended to protect B.C. workers is facing serious opposition from Whistler restaurateurs wanting to protect the right of their "smoking" patrons. But with confusion surrounding the matter of enforcing the regulation, the smoking scene Jan. 1, 2000 should be an interesting one. On Jan. 1, restaurants, bars, and games rooms will be required to provide smoke-free working environments for their employees. Since employees generally service an entire establishment, in effect that means 100 per cent of all businesses must be smoke-free. The current smoking regulations, written in 1985, require that 25 per cent of the area within restaurants remain smoke-free. The new requirements are part of a package of standards called the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and are just one outcome of the most comprehensive public consultation process on workplace health and safety ever conducted in North America. Prior to implementation of the new standards establishments must take reasonable action to protect their workers from second-hand smoke. If smoking is "outlawed" by 2000, local restaurateurs fear that there will be serious social and political tremors, leading to an economic quake throughout the restaurant industry. Andre St. Jacques is a managing partner at the Bear Foot Bistro. He is also the owner of Whistler Cigars. He is opposed to a complete ban on smoking in restaurants and bars saying it would be ludicrous. He is currently looking into the regulation to see what he would have to do to mount a legal challenge. St. Jacques believes that there should be some sort of Whistler exception to the provincial regulation. "We’d be willing to go to court," says St. Jacques. "The government shouldn’t be infringing on whether people can smoke or not. If that is going to be the case, they should eliminate smoking completely... take cigarettes off the shelf. It’s like selling booze then telling people they can’t drink it. This will certainly be interesting. It sort of has a big-brother feeling to it. For me, I can’t see that law being brought in without being opposed." St. Jacques says this is a "second-hand smoke issue" and that the Bear Foot already currently has a separate room with ventilation for smokers, so they may not have to worry about the regulation as much as other restaurants. There is still some confusion as to whether or not separate smoking rooms, or even smokers’ patios, will be accepted in restaurants and bars. "If there is a different area, like a lounge I don’t see any problem," says St. Jacques. Whistler Councillor Ken Melamed is a member of Whistler’s Tobacco Task Force committee. He says the fear restaurant and bar owners are facing is understandable and that there is going to be a tough and bitter transition period. Melamed is not against smoking, but is in favour of a safe environment for employees and non-smoking patrons. "It’s unpleasant," says Melamed. "Workers have had to tolerate a smoking workplace environment for years. I liken this to exhaust vents in repair shops. They’ve got to be there to fulfil health and safety requirements. "Nobody is saying there is going to be absolutely no smoking, it’s just that other patrons and workers don’t have to be exposed to it... I guess the other option here would be to give staff artificial breathing apparatus." Jorge Alvarez, general manager of Maxx Fish, feels the regulation would be really bad for business and that the ban would complement B.C’s already archaic liquor laws. "The WCB is worried about health issues, but they might help kill the service industry," says Alvarez. "There are a lot of hazards about working in a restaurant or bar: smoke, loud music — the people who work in the industry are not forced to, it’s their choice. I don’t think it’s up to the WCB to make the decisions for the workers." Whistler’s Quattro at Pinnacle owner Antonio Corsi is also fearful that a complete ban on smoking would inevitably result in a severe loss of business. Corsi’s concern: once people discover Whistler is a smoke-free resort, they’ll stop coming. "Summer may be a little different because there are still patios," said Corsi. "Unless they go so far as to ban smoking outside, like in Victoria. When people go out, maybe for a special occasion, even if they don’t usually smoke they may have one or two. Maybe it’s because they’re on vacation, but whatever the reason, if they can’t smoke here they will go somewhere else where they can. "This is definitely going to affect business in Whistler and it will take the freedom from many people. We are dealing with people from around the world," he says. "This is a very tough issue, we have a lot of Europeans and Asians who like to smoke." Marilyn McIvor, a public health nurse with the Coast Garibaldi Health Unit and a tobacco reduction co-ordinator, says the Task Force is investing a lot of time and energy in education and is currently working on establishing a new cessation program for school-aged youth to help discourage them from taking up tobacco. "With these WCB regulations coming next January, a cessation program is a good community project," she says. "We should be worried about the health effects of second-hand smoke and should be concentrating on that, rather than on the economic impact." One of the related problems that may arise as a result of the ban is an excessive amount of litter from smokers having to take their habit outdoors. There may also have to be consideration given to the current noise bylaw. But at this point it is unclear who exactly will enforce the WCB regulation, which is not a municipal bylaw. Sandra Smith, supervisor of bylaw for the RMOW, says that it won’t be the responsibility of the municipality to enforce the regulation. "This is the WCB’s," says Smith. "If we passed our own smoking bylaw, we would enforce it." "The enforcement part is still being worked out, it’s not clear yet," says McIvor. "If a company isn’t complying with the regulation, the WCB is complaint driven. There will be a toll-free number for patrons to call, and the establishment would be penalized. But we’re expecting people will comply." Melamed refers to the Beautiful B.C. campaign, which he says has worked in establishing B.C.’s pristine image internationally, and that people locally should respect it. "Whistler is an outdoor recreation, clean living, healthy resort experience," says Melamed. "The apres and nightlife is a big part of the ski experience, but it would be interesting to find out how many people actually think the nightlife is a positive experience and of those who do, how many feel that it’s smoking that makes it enjoyable." Melamed strongly disagrees with one bar owners’ suggestion that Whistler apply for an exemption from the WCB regulation, as it would be unfair to single-out and make Whistler employees suffer. Currently, all of the restaurants on both Whistler and Blackcomb are smoke-free. Intrawest is also currently in the process of developing Mammoth as a smoke-free resort. Melamed says the goal is to have the transition to the new regulation in place in Whistler by next November, and that brings a few more questions to the table. "Some people think it is just a given that we’ll let things go, New Year’s Eve 2000," says Melamed. "But this will be the smoke-free millennium."