Groups Recommend Smoke Free Work Law
UPdate Summer 2001

     Twenty five groups concerned about the health risks of tobacco have asked the Nova Scotia government to enact smoke free legislation covering all public places and workplaces. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is considered the most dangerous indoor air pollutant by Health Canada. 
     The groups are asking the government to include protection from environmental tobacco smoke, another term for second hand smoke, in occupational health and safety legislation. "The health part of our health and safety legislation is missing," said Merv Ungerain, director of the province's Tobacco Control Unit, which brought the groups together. "There are excellent draft Indoor Air Quality Regulations waiting for approval," said Ungerain.  "We believe this is the best place to include restrictions on tobacco smoke." Ungerain sees this as the most efficient route to achieving smoke free public places, including bars, restaurants and malls. 
     Occupational health legislation works on the premise that employers have a responsibility to protect employees from health hazards, and that employees do not have a right to endanger others.
     British Columbia's Workers' Compensation Board has placed exposure to tobacco smoke in this context.  In March, after a series of Public Hearings, they decided  "all employers must control workers' exposure to ETS."  Only  designated safe outdoor areas and separate indoor rooms with ventilation systems separate from the rest of the building, which workers must not be required to enter except in emergencies, are allowable.  Earlier BC regulations regarding ETS were adopted in April 1998 and covered most employees, but exempted those in bars, restaurants and correctional facilities. At present, only 27% of Nova Scotia employees benefit from smoke free workplaces.   
     Restaurants, bars and other public places in Maine, Vermont and Boston are now all smoke free.   Newfoundland introduced its first smoke free legislation in December 2000 aimed initially at restaurants.
     Studies show that exposure to ETS increases the risk of cancer by 20-30% and heart disease by 20-25%.  A 1994 document from the US Environmental Protection Agency noted, "A wide spectrum of health effects have been associated with exposure to ETS. These effects include mucous membrane irritation, decrease in respiratory system performance, adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, reproductive effects, and cancer."
     The groups, including the Medical Society of Nova Scotia, the N.S. Heart and Stroke Foundation, the N.S. Cancer Society and the N.S. Lung Association worked with the province's Tobacco Control Unit to develop the proposal, which also includes strategies to reduce tobacco consumption.