Ontario's small business owners are paying the price for plans to ban smoking in the province's restaurants, pubs and nightclubs, an industry advocacy group alleges.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association charges that the McGuinty government has dealt a crippling blow to many small businesses across the province with the passage of Bill 164, legislation that will ban smoking in bars, pubs, nightclubs and bingo halls on May 31, 2006.
The bill, the group says, does not provide enough time for business to prepare for an end to smoking in their establishments. Hundreds of costly designated smoking rooms (DSRs) constructed to meet municipal by-laws over the past two years will be worthless now, the CFRA contends.
But the Ontario government remains commited to its goal for a smoke-free Ontario. The McGuinty government is investing $50-million this year in the campaign - the largest anti-smoking investment in the province's history.
"We're protecting people from second-hand smoke, we're helping prevent young people from starting to smoke and we're giving people the tools they need to quit," Health and Long-term Care Minister George Smitherman said in a press release.
"We are backing up strong anti-smoking laws with equally strong enforcement initiatives and programs to help individuals and communities make Ontario smoke-free."
The CFRA charges that business owners have not been given a reasonable transition period to a adjust to the full ban.
"The Ontario government has effectively downloaded the cost of its smoke-free Ontario strategy onto small business owners, many of whom are struggling after three disastrous years for the hospitality industry," says Douglas Needham, President of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA). "Tourism is down dramatically, insurance and energy costs are skyrocketing and there is no end in sight to the NHL lock-out."
The goals of the Smoke-Free Ontario Campaign have been identified by the province as protection, prevention and cessation. The program includes funding for youth prevention programs, cessation, public education and enforcement, as well as initiatives targeted at high-risk populations such as aboriginal communities and low-income earners.
"The Smoke-Free Ontario Campaign will result in reduced tobacco use, fewer illnesses and fewer deaths," said Dr. Sheela Basrur, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health. "We're stopping smoking in its tracks by preventing kids from lighting up and becoming addicted to tobacco. We're also ensuring help is readily available for Ontarians who want to quit smoking."
The hospitality industry has struggled in Ontario over the past few years. CFRA released data that showed sales at the average Ontario pub, bar and nightclub down by 25 per cent over the past three years. Further, the organization says 4,100 jobs have been lost in this sector.
Since 2000, the number of international tourists to Ontario has dropped from 31.1 million to 22.9 million annually, leaving 8.2 million fewer people patronizing restaurants and bars.
At public hearings on Bill 164, CRFA and business owners supported the government's goal of reducing smoking rates in the province and requested a reasonable transition period to adjust their business plans. They proposed that properly ventilated DSRs - which protect non-smoking customers and employees from second-hand smoke - be allowed during the transition period in establishments that wished to accommodate their smoking clientele.
More than 700 businesses in Ontario have already built DSRs to comply with municipal smoking bylaws, at costs ranging from $15,000 to $300,000.
"Hundreds of small business owners invested in DSRs in good faith to comply with municipal bylaws and now the provincial government is effectively expropriating them without compensation. Their investment has gone up in smoke," says Needham.
Data supplied by the CFRA shows that smoking bans have a dramatically negative effect on establishments such as bars, pubs and nightclubs:
- Pubs and bars in New Brunswick suffered a 24 per cent drop in liquor sales in the first month of a ban similar to the one passed in Ontario.
- In Ottawa, pub and bar sales fell by 10 per cent in the first 10 months of a smoking ban.
- In Ireland, pub sales are down 10 - 15 per cent and 7,600 jobs have been lost in the year since that country's smoking ban took effect.
In contrast, British Columbia's smoking regulations were developed by the Workers' Compensation Board in cooperation with the hospitality industry and allow for designated smoking rooms with strict air-flow requirements and employee exposure limits.
"The sensible B.C. solution struck a balance between public health objectives and business realities. Most hospitality establishments in that province have gone smoke-free, but the DSR option has saved many businesses from having to cut jobs or go out of business," says Mr. Needham.
Ontario's $21.2-billion hospitality industry provides 491,000 jobs in communities across the province.