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Smoking law delay

Hay River businesses express confusion

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Hay River (Dec 17/01) - A proposed crackdown on second-hand smoke was sent back for work on wording after a public hearing Dec. 11.

NNSL Photo

Back Eddy restaurant and lounge owner Nanette Duford in front of a restaurant partition that falls between cracks in Hay River's new smoking bylaw. - Dave Sullivan/NNSL photo

Town council was ready to give final approval of a bylaw that will force businesses to choose between smoking, barring those under 18 or risking a $500 fine. But one restaurateur doesn't know how to work the new law into her business, and town officials who wrote the law don't have the answers.

The Back Eddy has a partition separating a licenced bar area from a family dining room. But the wall doesn't reach the ceiling. Owner Nanette Duford is not keen to raise the wall because "we'd have no way of monitoring what's going on in there."

"I'm all in favour of stopping kids from smoking but I've got a business to run," Duford says.

When she asked town council what to do, Duford was told the restaurant could be OK the way it is, as long as no smoke ever drifts over to the family section while youths are there. Other councillors said that won't do, while another said civil servants who have special smoke detectors could visit.

There is a little room to manoeuvre for the Back Eddy and other restaurants. Businesses can change back and forth between smoking and non-smoking any time, as long as smoking never takes place in the presence of youths.

It's worse though, for "Zoo" owner Garth Mackie, who has no way out under the bylaw as it's written so far. For non-smokers, he'll be required to set aside 10 per cent of the space.

Mackie said after the hearing he'll put up a no smoking sign by a table--but it won't be enforced because in his view that will be impossible.

"People never stay sitting in a bar, they're always moving around. And people who've been drinking can have unpredictable reactions if they're told to butt out," Mackie said.

"It can create a situation for no reason."

Like Duford he wants to discourage children from being exposed to smoke, but that doesn't happen in a bar.

"Our average age is probably 35. They know what they're doing when they decide to visit."

Resident Come Deshaies told the hearing that local government is extending a reach too far into people's lives.

Angry at snow-clearing efforts he calls too slow, Deshaies said "it's a good law but it can be put after some more basic concerns."

Also at the hearing, Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen recalled how as a municipal politician years ago, she was unable to get a rule passed to stop smoking during council meetings.

"It's hard to believe, isn't it? People just sat and puffed away the whole meeting. We've come a long way."

Groenewegen is joined by others who feel the proposed law doesn't go far enough. They would prefer a complete smoking ban in all buildings accessible to the public.

That will be examined down the road, but Mayor Duncan McNeil calls the current proposal "brutal steps" for a town that never before tried cleaning up indoor air pollution.

The bylaw's wording falls short in areas, such as not spelling out whether places like the Legion are clubs.

"It's not going to be perfect, there will be scenarios pop up," said Coun. Dean McMeekin.

Many of the bylaw's ideas are from one which took effect for Yellowknifers in April 2000. That city recently decided to crack down on hockey players lighting up in the city's arena dressing rooms.