Putting the brakes on smoking in vehicles

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New provincial law prioritizes kid’s health over parents’ freedoms

Lauren Golosky
Contributor

On Oct. 1, 2010, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health passed a legislation prohibiting smoking in vehicles where minors under the age of 16 are present. This legislation is sparking debates among the public.

Donna Pasiechnik for Tobacco Control at the Canadian Cancer Society believes this new legislation, along with previous amendments, will help save lives. “We’re very pleased with the changes that have occurred. We believe it will further reduce tobacco use in Saskatchewan and denormalize smoking in Saskatchewan. We have the highest smoking rates in Saskatchewan for people aged 15 and up, 22 per cent and the national average is 18 per cent."

As research advances, more effects of secondhand smoke on children and infants are being discovered.

“We know that children exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk for respiratory illness, sudden infant death syndrome, and there is suggested evidence that it puts kids at a higher risk for childhood leukemia. The long-term effects are that kids are more likely to develop and die from heart problems [and] breathing problems,” said Pasiechnik.

Nicole Nieminen, Senior Policy Analyst with the Ministry of Health, also thinks that this new ban promotes health and safety, specifically for the younger population. “The goal of the legislation is to protect Saskatchewan youth from tobacco smoke. The level of tobacco smoke reaches harmful levels for everyone, but especially for those who are still developing which is why they are the focus of this legislation.”
Nieminen also stated that the ministry had long-term goals to make smoking less common. “The ministry is working on a provincial tobacco strategy: prevention, protection, and cessation to reduce tobacco use.”

This law, and other laws that control tobacco use, is still controversial in the public. But whether the law is liked or hated, it does shine light on the issue.“Smoke-free car laws raise public dialogue. People talk about the issue and are aware of the risks of secondhand smoke, especially for kids. It may encourage smokers to make other places smoke-free, like their homes,” said Pasiechnik. “It protects kids’ health.”

“A combination of legislation and education is more effective than education alone. We’ve known for over a decade how dangerous it is and many people still smoke in their vehicles even when children are present.”

Nieminen also addresses complaints from those who say the new legislation violates individual rights and freedoms, comparing it to other various laws that emphasize safety in vehicles. “There are many things that are regulated within a vehicle, like seatbelt use, cell phone use, and conduct, all to protect safety and health. This legislation has the same goal.”

However, much like laws that prohibit cell phone use or require seatbelts, new amendments to the Tobacco Control Act are facing critique from some in Saskatchewan. Even the University of Regina’s smoking policy, which instructs smokers to light up only outdoors and away from air intakes, walkways, and entrances, encounters much public debate. One woman, who opted to remain anonymous, spoke out against bans regarding smoking in general, feeling they were degrading towards smokers as human beings. “I can understand people don’t like [smoking], but we’re already so excluded and now we stand out as second-class citizens,” she says. “Why don’t they force us into a circle on the academic green where everybody can make fun of us?”

Despite the scrutiny of the latest legislation, Pasiechnik is adamant that the Canadian Cancer Society is happy with it. She also admits that there is still room for improvement. “When you take a look back at the ’60s, more than half the population smoked and now we’re at 18 per cent. It’s less desirable, less common, but we still have a long way to go.”

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