Behavior

Where there’s smoke, there’s ire

CHERYL HAWKES November 28 1977
Behavior

Where there’s smoke, there’s ire

CHERYL HAWKES November 28 1977

Where there’s smoke, there’s ire

Behavior

Storekeeper Candice Couture is fuming. Banging the cash register keys in the corner grocery store she and her husband own, she puffs on a cigarette and scowls at the sign the City of Toronto has ordered her to display on the wall. “Look at me.” She takes a drag. “Smoking. Right under my own NO SMOKING sign. Ridiculous.'’'

Toronto’s new smoking bylaw has been called worse, but for the city’s nonsmoking majority it has certainly cleared the air. Since October 1, smoking has been verboten in retail stores, hospitals, banks, municipal offices, elevators, lineups, reception areas and school buses. Theatres and assembly halls must allot at least half their space for the non-puffing public. Restaurants must advertise clearly whether a nosmoking section is provided. Under the law, each proprietor must strictly enforce the no-smoking rules or face a fine of up to $1,000. Ditto for anyone caught puffing where he shouldn’t.

“If they think I’m going to step outside in the cold rather than smoke in my store, they’re nuts,” grumbles Couture. “They’ll

have to bring the jail down here and fit it over my head.”

That probably won’t be necessary. With the law on their side, Toronto’s nonsmokers are finding that most people, if asked politely, would rather switch than

fight. In the two months the bylaw has been in effect, the howls of protest against it have been reduced, in the words of one nicotine addict, to “a wheeze in the wilderness.” Nonsmokers previously too timid to protest against secondhand smoke in their eyes and lungs now are speaking up and asking smokers to butt out. Across town from the Coutures’ store, a packed movie house greets a NO SMOKING warning flashed on the screenjust before show-time with a round of thunderous applause. Smoking in trendy Toronto is becoming unfashionable.

Much of the credit for this goes to the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, a grittily determined group of lobbyists who, after three years of chewing on the tobacco problem, finally won their way at City Hall. Led by 36-year-old executive director Garfield Mahood, they blitzed City Hall last spring with a campaign so well orchestrated it inspired city council to pass the bylaw unanimously. Toronto mayor David Crombie called the group “one of the most impressive and intelligent lobbies I have ever known.” A Toronto bartender, addressing the committee studying the bylaw proposals, called the nonsmokers “fanatics who are pursuing smokers with the zeal of the Spanish Inquisition. People are going to die anyway,” the man reasoned.

Ironically, the anti-smoking battle is being waged most successfully in Ontario, home of Canada’s tobacco industry. The Toronto bylaw, a stronger version of one instituted by the City of Ottawa at the beginning of the year, probably will serve as an important model for other communities. Since October 1, half a dozen Ontario municipalities have started to prepare their own curbs on indoor pollution and it looks as if others will follow suit. A national Gallup poll in April showed 49% of Canadians favor separate smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants and another 17% favor a complete ban on smoking when they dine.

Mahood, a professional troubleshooter who came to Non-Smokers’ Rights from the Canadian Environmental Law Association, says he’d just love someone to drag the Toronto bylaw into court. So far, Ontario hasn’t moved to restrict smoking on a province-wide basis. Tobacco taxes, after all, pour more than $ 100 million a year into provincial coffers. Solicitors for Toronto and Ottawa say both cities probably exceeded their authority under the provincial Municipal Act when they declared the anti-smoking laws—but they did it with an approving wink from provincial authorities. “A real Catch-22 situation,” says pipe store manager Doug Matthews.“It would cost some poor turkey about $30,000 and two years in court to get the bylaw defeated. Then the province could just rewrite the Municipal Act to allow the bylaw and you’re back at square one.”

Mahood has waged a fierce battle to convince Toronto’s politicians of something already widely accepted outside

Canada: in a country where people spend most of their time indoors, inhaled tobacco smoke poses a major health threat and pollution problem. In the United States, airlines are obliged to provide seating for all nonsmokers, even if that means cutting back on the number of seats reserved for smokers. In Finland, fines for smoking in restricted places are in proportion to the violator’s income. This fall France instituted some of the stifiest anti-smoking fines in Europe, while Sweden initiated a 25-year smoking control program.

Toronto’s bylaw is a necessary weapon in the battle for clean personal space in Canada, argues Mahood. “You can edu-

cate people from here to doomsday that they shouldn’t drink and drive and they’ll still do it,” he says. “You have to combine that education with something else—legislation and peer group pressure.” Well, Toronto’s nonsmokers have their law and the pressure definitely is on. As one Toronto columnist declared, “Motherhood is in.” And already, say optimistic city officials, the bylaw is proving to be self-regulating: they estimate that 70% ofTorontonians are confirmed nonsmokers and only 1% of the population is refusing to obey the law. “Next thing you know,” whined one letter to the editor, “they’ll be telling us what time to go to bed.”

CHERYL HAWKES