Editorial Board 2001-2002
After six years of worry for London smokers, city hall's no-smoking bylaw for restaurants will soon become a reality.
Currently, London restaurants are allowed to offer 25 per cent of their seating to smokers. As of Jan. 1, 2002, restaurant-owners will be forced to switch to a totally smoke-free environment.
There is, however, a loophole.
If an establishment decides to declare themselves a bar rather than a restaurant, patrons will be able to smoke all they want. Although becoming a bar does have its disadvantages anyone under the age of 19 will have limited access to the establishment after hours this bar exception will help keep a business from forcing its clientele to butt out.
The bylaw, phased in over six years, could increase the smoking in bars across the city. If a significant number of restaurants re-style themselves as bars, the number of smoking tables in London could actually swell.
These easily manipulated smoking bylaws put the health of Londoners in the hands of bar and restaurant owners and given the self-serving nature of capitalism, owners are more than likely to choose profit over health.
Critics of smoking regulations have often claimed that reducing smoking hurts the hospitality industry as a whole. The City of London, however, claim business will not suffer.
Ultimately, individual establishments will have to decide if they want to remain open to smokers or not. It is unlikely this decision will take into consideration how many people will be susceptible to second-hand smoke inside their establishment. Instead, they will most likely complete a cost-benefit analysis and realize that smoking patrons pay the bills.
Perhaps allowing businesses to decide their own fate in the smoking debate is flawed. Perhaps London should consider the workers of the restaurant and bar industry when they make their decisions.
Instead, they have left a loophole, even though this bylaw has been around and open to scrutiny since 1996.
It is quite possible, through this bylaw, city council is seeking a middle ground on the smoking issue prevent a possible rash of bankrupt restaurants, while still improving the general air quality.
They may also be testing the waters and delaying the inevitable a total ban on smoking in all public places.
While this new bylaw is a first step, it is not sufficient. City council will have to go for all or nothing. It is not enough to allow businesses to decide for themselves whether or not they should be classified as a "bar" or a "restaurant."
The city needs to devise a plan by which these establishments must meet certain criteria in order to call themselves a "bar" and therefore allow smoking.
Instead, the new bylaw provides a loophole which has the potential to allow more smoking in public places, even though the goal of the bylaw was actually to reduce such behaviour.
Once again, it seems the fine folks at City Hall are "smoking" something.