Enforcing Smoke-Free Ontario Act changes

A tobacco enforcement inspector explains what building owners and managers need to know
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
By Michelle Ervin

Patios, playgrounds, sports fields and university campuses are among the amenity and facility types affected by the changes to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act that rolled out Jan. 1 of this year. The City of Toronto also recently revised its bylaws, requiring, among other things, that smokers butt out within a nine-metre radius of building entrances and exits.

Arron Jackson, a tobacco enforcement inspector at the City of Toronto, explained what building owners and managers need to know about these changes at a recent BOMA Toronto breakfast seminar.

What’s new

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act changes banned smoking at publicly owned sports fields, such as baseball diamonds, as well as within 20 metres (about 65 feet) of children’s playgrounds, including sandboxes and splash pads. Changes to the Act expanded the smoking ban on covered restaurant and bar patios to capture all patios — covered or uncovered. Changes to the Act also prohibited the sale of tobacco on post-secondary campuses.

The City of Toronto’s bylaw amendments made mandatory the nine-metre (about 28 feet) no-smoking zone some property managers and owners had already voluntarily established at their building entrances and exits. It applies to any publicly accessible building, meaning offices and institutional facilities, municipal buildings, shopping malls and stores, multi-residential buildings, and bars, restaurants and cafes.

Under the amendments, building owners and managers are responsible for upholding a ban on ashtrays and like paraphernalia within the no-smoking zone and posting bylaw no-smoking signs at entrances and exits. Owners can either create their own signs or obtain free signs from the city, but it must meet specifications for size and colour set out in the bylaw (Municipal Code Chapter 709).

Enforcement and penalties

As a tobacco enforcement inspector, Jackson has a variety of tools for enforcing the Smoke-Free Ontario Act and the City of Toronto’s smoking bylaw. Though these tools include tickets and ultimately prosecution, he said Toronto Public Health takes a progressive approach that puts awareness and education first.

“The last thing we want to do is give out tickets,” said Jackson. “We want compliance. If we get compliance voluntarily, great.”

When voluntary compliance fails, tickets carrying fines come into play. A ticket for holding lit tobacco in an enclosed workplace runs $305. A ticket for smoking lit tobacco in an enclosed workplace runs another $305.

One wrinkle in the bylaw changes is that not all buildings in Toronto have a nine-metre buffer zone between their entrances and where their property line meets the city sidewalk, which is considered a “highway” under the law. Inspectors are powerless to enforce the smoking bylaw there.

For buildings with buffers as small as two feet, Jackson said he looks for mutually agreeable solutions, such as steering smokers to an alternative location nearby.

“We try to accommodate them,” he said. “We don’t say you can’t smoke; you just can’t do it here, where it impacts others.”

Jackson offered Toronto Public Health’s line (416-338-7600) as a resource for building owners and managers seeking help with enforcement at their properties.

Future changes

Tobacco-free water pipes and e-cigarettes are currently a hazy area of smoking laws.

Water pipes — a cultural import from the east — are traditionally used with herbal shisha. As these pipes have gained popularity in the west, vapour lounges have popped up across the city, inviting patrons to smoke shisha indoors.

“We have no grounds to lay any charges, because there’s no tobacco in it,” said Jackson.

But, he added, just like restaurants can create house policies such as “no shirt, no shoes, no service,” building owners and managers can create house policies banning the use of these apparatuses on their premises.

E-cigarettes, which are relatively new to the market, contain nicotine but no tobacco, and are touted by some as a tool for quitting smoking.

The City of Toronto has introduced an internal policy banning e-cigarettes in all places where smoking is banned. The Government of Ontario is currently considering a bill that would apply that standard across the province. Jackson said Bill 45, Making Healthier Choices Act, 2015, appears likely to pass through the legislature with ease, with the potential to roll out as early as Jan. 1, 2016.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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