Smoke Ban and Mirrors: Couillard Found His Distraction

Philippe Couillard and his Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) needed a distraction, badly. With austerity everywhere except for Bombardier and mass protests ramping up again, they needed a way to take everyone’s mind off the damage they were doing and refocus it on something polarizing, though easy to get behind. If the battle lines get redrawn, even better.

They found it. The PLQ’s particular brand of smoke and mirrors politics starts with removing smoke and vapor from Quebec’s terrasses.

The National Assembly just passed Bill 44 which makes it illegal to smoke on outdoor restaurant and bar terrasses and bans electronic cigarette smoking (vaping) everywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. Establishments caught allowing their patrons to break this new law multiple times could face fines up to $100 000.

Whether you’re a non-smoker, a smoker, someone who hates cigarettes, vapes, you name it, one thing is clear: this law does nothing except help out the Couillard government.

No Health Benefits for Non-Smokers or Smokers

When Quebec banned smoking indoors in any public place back in 2006, bar and restaurant owners complained and some patrons weren’t happy either. Others, non-smokers and people who didn’t like their clothes smelling like smoke the day after a night out, rejoiced.

The indoor smoking ban made sense and had actual, tangible health benefits. Second-hand smoke can be a killer. When a room is filled with smoke, everyone in it is breathing smoke in, whether they want to or not.

Bill 44, on the other hand, makes no sense at all. It doesn’t protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke. Smoke outdoors is not enclosed, and with no ceiling to hit, it doesn’t linger. Some argue that there is a greater health risk sitting close to someone who is smoking, even outside, I fail to see how a smoker on the sidewalk, across an imaginary divide, poses any less risk to the non-smoker on a terrasse as one sitting on the terrace itself.

If this is correct, though, then doesn’t the smoker standing on a sidewalk pose a greater health risk to a non-smoker walking down the street then they did when they were sitting down smoking on a terrasse. If anything, this law just passes the buck. Health-wise.

This new law is even more galling when it comes to vapers. While the jury is still out on health risks faced by someone smoking an e-cigarette, one thing is crystal clear: there is no second-hand vape smoke, even indoors.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Flickr Creative Commons

This new law offers no health benefits to non-smokers, but it also offers none to smokers. Smoking cigarettes is dangerous, but it’s just as dangerous for the smoker sitting on a terrasse as it is to a smoker standing on the sidewalk. Vaping, if it does turn out to be dangerous to the vaper, is equally as dangerous whether they are inside, sitting on a terrasse outside or on the sidewalk.

Only banning the sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes outright can provide the health benefits to smokers that those who support this law want. Moving smokers to the curb is just an annoying esthetic measure that does nothing.

Esthetic Choices Should Be Left to the Establishment, Not the State

There is one solid argument in favour of Bill 44 that I have seen from non-smokers on my Facebook feed: cigarette smoke smells. It’s true, it does. No one, most smokers included, want their dinner to smell like an ashtray.

I fully support restaurants that banned smoking on their terraces. Most of them did it years ago. Some bars that want to offer a smoke-free experience to their customers have done the same.

I fully support an establishment’s right to select the esthetics they greet their customers with. People who want a smoke-free outdoor dining or drinking experience will support those establishments, as they have been.

If you don’t want people smoking next to you while you eat, select your establishment accordingly. There is no need for government intervention.

When the state imposes a uniform esthetic on all establishments, it doesn’t just hurt the dive bars and those places which prefer clients who like to smoke while they drink. It also hurts businesses that created a niche for themselves by offering a smoke-free outdoor environment. They loose that competitive advantage because now everyone with a terrasse offers the same experience…by law.

Creating Problems Where None Existed

If people thought smoking on terrasses was annoying, just wait till they experience having to pass through throngs of smokers standing on the sidewalk. Sure, that happens already in front of bars without outdoor space, but now it will be happening, even in the summer, in front of places with huge front and back terrasses.

Also, staff working at bars with terrasses will now have a new responsibility: making sure people don’t take their drinks with them when they step over the invisible barrier onto the sidewalk for a smoke. Even some of the most respectful and responsible people try to get away with little things like this (which carry a huge fine) when they have had a few.

So, there we have it. A law which does nothing to improve public health, creates problems where none existed and pits smokers as well as those non-smokers who hate government overreach against people who think any curbing of smoking is good. It even passes with unanimous consent, because which politician wants to vote against something that, in theory, curbs smoking.

Couillard has his distraction. Smoke and mirrors achieved by banning the smoke.

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