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Debate Club: Patio Smoking Ban
Mollie Paige and Claudia McNeilly debate the merits of the proposal to ban smoking on restaurant patios

Next week, the Toronto Board of Health will discuss a proposal to widen the ban on smoking in public areas to prohibit smoking in sports fields, restaurant patios, public building entryways and hospital grounds. Currently, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act passed in 2009 bans smoking near wading pools, city playgrounds, splash pads, on schools and their sports fields and in farms and zoos operated by the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division. Smoking is also banned in enclosed public spaces and workplaces. Mollie Paige and Claudia McNeilly discuss the pros and cons.

Mollie Paige: The crowds in Toronto are enough to drive anyone insane. Busy sidewalks make it impossible to walk anywhere in a hurry and the last thing I want is to get stuck behind Mister Chain Smoker. You know the kind: You’re walking down the street, minding your own business when he lights up. You hurry to rush past him but he blocks your every attempt. Breathing becomes a task as you dodge in and out of the smoke clouds just to find clean oxygen. When you finally arrive at your favourite restaurant, lo and behold there are no more available seats indoors and guess who is sitting on the patio? Extending the current smoking ban will help everyone breathe a little easier and still allow smokers to light up, just a little further away.

Claudia McNeilly: Our crowds are not a vice; they slather diversity, energy and character over our city. It wouldn’t be Toronto without Spadina’s crawling crowds, the pungent (and seemingly permanent) smell of rotten fish and tobacco smoke wafting through the air like freshly baked bread. Then there are the plaid clad twenty-somethings in Kensington market, smoking Belmonts and drinking PBR on every available inch of patio space, peering out at you with disdain. As Torontonians we grunt and look the other way as we face these imperfections. Yet they imbue our city with continuity, stability and tradition as much as the CN tower or the ROM.

MP: If only the stench was the full extent of the problem, but it’s not; health is. Secondhand smoke, when inhaled, can lead to a long list of gruesome side effects including disease and death.  When a smoker lights up, they willingly accepting the consequences; but innocent bystanders don’t have the same luxuries.  According to McKeown’s report, 15 percent of non-smoking Torontonians say they are exposed to secondhand smoke “every day or almost every day.” Pregnant women who eat outdoors at restaurants and families who take their children to watch softball games all risk exposing themselves and their loved ones to harmful carcinogens. Banning smoking completely would be as effective as banning marijuana, but nobody should be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke while in a common sitting area.

CM: ‘Air quality’ appears to be vitally important to our moral compasses and that’s great, but go outside and look at the stream of smoke being emitted from that unruly smoker. You’ll notice that it’s about a millimetre thick. Think about the smoke that comes from the car you drive, the taxi you took last Friday night, or the airplane you rode last December. There’s no denying these tunnels of smoke are big and that they’re severely impacting the air you just inhaled.

Cigarettes begin as a choice, and a stupid choice at that. But after the choice to smoke is made for whatever reason, lighting a cigarette is no longer a choice but an endless chase to feel normal again. Smokers run, through bated breath, to catch a glimpse of a clear head with eloquent, calm thoughts. When we finally do we get a pain in our lungs and can’t even begin to imagine what’s going on behind the veil of our skin. I don’t want to think about it. I just want to enjoy the normal feeling I seem to have to partly grasped before it slips away again.

Tobacco is a substance that is taxed and controlled as much as alcohol or Tylenol. As long as our government continues to tax tobacco, they should not be allowed to ban it from every imaginable space. If our government is generating a profit from cigarettes, it is fundamentally wrong for them to ban the use of the very substance which deposits money into their endlessly deep pockets.

MP: Keeping the lungs of hospital patrons and soccer fans smoke-free will not detrimentally hurt the economy. Smokers will continue to purchase cigarettes no matter how expensive the tax is or how many dying people are pictured on the box.
The fact of the matter is, a majority of people agree with this ban. A 2011 Public Health survey found that 86 percent of Torontonians would support a ban on smoking near public doorways; 83 percent for a ban in public sports and spectator areas; and 74 percent support a ban on all patios.
Yes, people who choose to smoke are making a ‘stupid’ decision because they know about the health risks, but, c’est la vie. The ban will not stop smokers from smoking. It will however, further prevent smokers from making the especially ‘stupid’ choice to share their health risks with everyone around them.

CM: Like you said, people will continue to smoke even if tobacco becomes illegal. They will continue to smoke because it’s in our nature to search for enjoyment and happiness. To deny yourself and those around this right is wrong and goes against what makes us fundamentally human. Smokers are not human-beings without the ability to understand situations. If a child is sitting beside me I will not be lighting up and blowing smoke in his or her face. But as an adult you can’t block yourself off from everything that’s bad for you. Or you can; you can live in a bubble your entire life and bathe in Purell but what kind of life is that? As a society we’ve become so afraid of everything that we’ve started stapling our fears onto everyone around us. Are we happy? One quick look at the faces of Torontonians proves that we’re not; we’re beaten down and scared. All the bans in the world won’t fix this problem, what will is acceptance of our place in the world and acceptance of those around us– and yes, that includes smokers, too.

What’s your take? Should smoking be banned on patios or have smokers been punished enough? Have your say in the comments.


Mollie Paige writes for the Toronto Standard. You can follow her on twitter @MolliePB

Claudia McNeilly is an editorial intern at the Toronto Standard. You can follow her on twitter at @claudiamcneilly

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