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Up in smoke

The provincial government wades in on the smoking issue, and creates a compromise

Just in time for National Non-Smoking Week, the Liberal government released new regulations that could see up to 45 per cent of floor space in a hospitality setting – a bar or a restaurant, for example – designated as a smoking area.

Under the new regulations that will be effective as of May 1:

• Employees must give their consent to work in a smoking room and are protected from discrimination if they do not give consent.

• Employee work stations cannot be located in a smoking room.

• Workers can enter the smoking room intermittently to perform their duties but cannot work more than 20 per cent of a shift in the smoking room.

• Hospitality and gaming establishments that choose to allow smoking on their premises must have separate rooms for smoking and non-smoking customers.

• Smoking rooms must be structurally separate and can be no more than 45 per cent of the total floor space in hospitality settings and 65 per cent in bingo halls.

• Air from smoking rooms must either be ventilated directly to the outside or cleaned through a system that meets a minimum standard of 95 per cent operating efficiency at a 0.3 micrometre particle size.

According to Graham Bruce, the minister of skills development and labour, the legislation is a compromise between the demands of the hospitality industry and proposed Workers’ Compensation Board regulations that would make it illegal to expose workers to smoke.

"We’ve developed a solution that respects personal choice, balances all interests in the workplace and is consistent with liquor control and licensing branch policy," said Bruce.

"This regulation provides the highest provincial standard of worker protection in Canada. It does not override local regulations that prohibit workplace smoking in more than 25 municipalities representing about 2 million people in the Lower Mainland and on southern Vancouver Island." That includes Vancouver, Victoria, and most of their surrounding areas.

The controversy over smoking is far from over, however. While the compromise may be good for smokers and the bars and restaurants that rely on smokers for business, many believe it’s at the expense of the workers.

Airspace Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-smoking lobby that has supported the WCB’s approach to protect workers from the beginning, called the new laws "sickening" and a "blatant sell-out of worker health for tobacco industry wealth," said Airspace president Heather Mackenzie.

"Our advice to workers: consult your lawyer – or contact us and we will help you find one. Workers have a right to a smoke-free workplace and this announcement violates that right."

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