Coalition calls on province to close gaps in workplace second-hand smoke legislation
Alberta workplaces became smoke-free a decade ago but the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta says more can be done to protect workers from second-hand smoke. Smoke-free advocates say millions of workers have been protected from second-hand smoke over the last ten years but say the provincial government needs to implement a more comprehensive ban. Smoking in most workplaces in the province was banned in 2008 but some say the legislation does not provide sufficient protection for hotel cleaning staff or people working in group homes or hookah bars.
"Alberta's smoking ban contains several loopholes that continue to leave thousands of workers inadequately protected from second-hand smoke. These loopholes include allowances for smoking in group living facilities, hotel and motel guest rooms and in hookah bars. People who are employed in these workplaces deserve full protection from second-hand smoke," said Kate Chidester, from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "The current exemptions cannot be justified any longer, protection delayed, is protection denied."
"The second-hand smoke from water pipes is as harmful as the second-hand smoke from cigarettes. Air quality tests that have been conducted in hookah bars in Edmonton and Calgary have shown very poor air quality with high levels of fine matter that people would breathe into their lungs as well as presence of carcinogens," said Dr. Brent Friesen, public health physician. "The science is very clear that burning any product, such as tobacco, water pipe tobacco or shisha is harmful to your health."
"We believe the exposure to second-hand smoke on the job represents unsafe work," said James Hart, VP Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. "The Alberta government should extend the current workplace smoking ban to protect all workers. It is impossible to justify any form of smoking in the workplace in this day and age, especially if the government is truly committed to improving working conditions for all Albertans." Hart says many people who work in hotels, group living facilities and shisha bars are not in a position to demand a smoke-free workplace.
"Many are earning minimum wage and are working part-time with limited benefits. These vulnerable Albertans deserve first-class protection for the serious health hazards of second-hand smoke. No one should be left behind," he said. "We urge the Alberta government to remove all exemptions from the workplace smoking ban, everyone deserves to have a safe and healthy workplace regardless of their occupation or wage levels."
Les Hagen is the Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health and says the legalization of cannabis creates another threat to workplace health and safety. "The new cannabis act will allow cannabis smoking in any workplace that allows tobacco smoking. We oppose this exemption just as we oppose exemptions on tobacco smoking," said Hagen. "Second-hand smoke is second-hand smoke whether it comes from a burning cigarette or from a burning joint, the health risks increase with exposure levels."
The justice minister says the province is still developing health-related policies around cannabis.
Experts say there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke and that over 1,000 Canadians are estimated to die from exposure each year.