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The hospitality industry says it needs more time to comply with WCB smoking regulations; health advocates say the hospitality industry is stalling

The days of smoking in bars and restaurants are numbered. What that number will wind up being, however, has yet to be determined.

As it currently stands, amended Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) regulations that prohibit business owners from exposing employees to ETS are scheduled to come into effect on Sept. 10 – the Workers’ Compensation Board approved the amendments on March 8, reasoning that six months notice was ample for employers to get up to speed.

The Coalition of Hospitality Organizations disagrees, and has asked the provincial government to delay the implementation of the new ETS regulations to give bars and restaurants more time to get into compliance.

According to Vance Campbell, the spokesperson for the coalition and the vice president of the Cabaret Owners Association of B.C., the province has yet to respond but members are doubtful that their request will be granted in time.

"We made a request and they’re considering it, but that’s all we know," says Campbell. "You have to go through three levels of government at this point. You have to go through the city, you have to go through the liquor board, you have to go through the WCB, and we don’t think it’s going to be done by Sept. 10."

There is some hope that the newly elected Liberal party will be more sympathetic to the business concerns of bar and restaurant owners than the outgoing NDP. In a March 9 release, Campbell questioned the right of the NDP to make this kind of decision at all, calling it "a shameful, cynical political move by the government in the last days of its mandate."

According to a study commissioned by the hospitality coalition, bar and restaurant business declined 12.7 per cent across the province the first time the ETS regulations were put into place, from Jan 1, 2000 to March 22, 2000. They estimate that it cost businesses $100 million, bankrupted nine bars and restaurants, and led to a loss of over 730 hospitality jobs.

At the same time, the coalition estimated that up to 60 per cent of bars and restaurants in the province didn’t even bother to comply. From the beginning they argued that better ventilation was the key; that bar and restaurant staff don’t necessarily want the protection of the WCB because it will affect their gratuities; that visitors don’t understand or appreciate the regulations, and that could adversely affect the province’s tourism industry.

The B.C. Liquor Licencees and Retailers Association and the owner of one establishment hurt by the smoking ban challenged the regulations in court, and Supreme Court Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein sided with the hospitality industry. The Supreme Court ruled that the "public hearings conducted were insufficient to meet the requirements" of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which requires public hearings on any new regulations.

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