Key Issues

in Federal Legislation, Second-hand Smoke

Smoking Rooms Eliminated in Workplaces Under Federal Jurisdiction

On November 14, 2007, the Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Labour, confirmed amendments to the Non-smokers’ Health Regulations which effectively ban smoking from most workplaces under federal control. Prior to the amendments, smoking was permitted in designated smoking rooms in a variety of federally-regulated workplaces, including the federal public service, the federal private sector, the House of Commons, Crown Corporations, and other sectors including banking, broadcasting, inter-provincial and international transportation. The federal legislation lagged seriously behind workplace protection offered through provincial and territorial smoke-free legislation.

The issue of smoking being permitted in workplaces under federal control came to a head in the spring of 2007 when the media reported employee smoking lounges at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Toronto. Smoking is prohibited in workplaces and public places under the Smoke-free Ontario Act, 2006. From a health perspective, it was incongruent that smoking was prohibited in almost all workplaces, yet CBC employees were continuing to be subjected to the risks associated with second-hand smoke exposure.

In response to the negative media reports about the CBC’s smoking lounges, Minister Blackburn ordered air quality testing to be done at designated smoking rooms. The results demonstrated that the air inside these smoking rooms was very poor when the rooms weren’t in use, deteriorating to dangerous levels when they were in use. This was enough to prompt the Minister to make the changes necessary to clear the air.

The amendments prohibit smoking in virtually all federally-regulated workplaces, save for living accommodations, motor vehicles, lighthouses, crane cabs, cabooses, locomotives and other workspaces that have a separate ventilation system and to which only one person normally has access during a shift. This includes ships which operate on a 24 hour basis and provide workers’ living accommodations for extended periods of time.

The Non-Smokers’ Rights Association is generally pleased with the amendments, but feels that they could have gone further to protect all employees under federal jurisdiction from second-hand smoke in the workplace. In addition, federal legislation fails to include smoke-free zones around building entrances and exits, windows and air intakes, in contrast to legislation in many provinces/territories and municipalities. It is hoped that the definition of “workspace” in the Non-smokers’ Health Act will be updated to include outside areas.

Although federal prisons are exempted from these new amendments, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) recently announced a total smoking ban for all federal correctional facilities, effective April 30th, 2008. This move by CSC follows a partial smoking ban implemented in February 2006, which permitted prisoners to smoke outdoors and allowed them to keep smoking materials in their cells. That policy proved to be largely unworkable, as many inmates continued to smoke in their cells and corrections officers exercised work refusals over their exposure to second-hand smoke.

Most provincial and territorial prisons are 100% smoke-free, and it is hoped that the new policy currently being developed by CSC will offer the same protection to federal prison guards that is enjoyed by their provincial counterparts.

The Non-Smokers’ Rights Association applauds Minister Blackburn for making the changes necessary to protect employees under federal jurisdiction from the known dangers of exposure to second-hand smoke. These amendments not only protect most workers, but also fulfill Canada’s obligation under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a legally-binding tobacco control treaty.

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