“Nine other (provincial) jurisdictions in Canada have this workplace smoking ban,” said Rob Norris, minister of advanced education, employment, and labour.
“Saskatchewan had fallen behind, and we wanted to make sure that we were aligned – especially as it related to workplace smoking,” Norris said.
Since 2005, workplace smoking has been restricted to certain designated smoking areas only. But some workplaces not accessible to the public, workers have been allowed to puff away.
The new ban will prohibit smoking in all enclosed places of employment, including buildings, vehicles, other enclosed structures and underground mines.
Health groups across the province are applauding the new regulations, hailing the move as long overdue.
“Saskatchewan physicians have been pushing for the workplace smoking ban for a number of years,” said Marcus Davies of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA).
“We continued to press the province for action during the review of the occupational health and safety regulations and offered them our support in helping make the new regulations a reality,” he said.
According to Norris, the new workplace smoking ban comes with a great deal more public support – and much less backlash – than during the implementation of the 2005 ban.
“I think over the last decade or so, the norms have changed regarding smoking,” Norris said.
In an effort to consult with the public, the government sent out 85 letters to First Nations communities, 114 letters to Metis communities, and over 800 letters to municipalities across the province.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Norris. “Eighty-nine per cent of respondents said they concurred with the steps we were taking.”
The situation may be improving, said Davies, but the province still has a long ways to go.
“While smoking rates continue to drop across Canada, Saskatchewan remains stubborn,” said Davies.
According to the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS), which collects data on tobacco use and related issues in Canada, Saskatchewan continues to have the highest rate of smokers over 15 years of age, at 21 per cent. British Columbia has the lowest rate at 15 per cent, while all others are close to the national average of 18 percent.
The Saskatchewan Medical Association would like to see the province do more in the fight against smoking.
The group has lobbied the government to ban smoking in cars with children present, as well as removing cigarettes and tobacco products from pharmacies.
“We have discussed, but not lobbied, policies which would see smoking cessation products such as patches, gums, etc., be available at a lower cost through the drug plan,” added Davies.
There are few exceptions to the new ban, which include areas of underground mines 10 metres from other workers, designated smoking rooms for residents and visitors of long-term care facilities, and traditional First Nations and Metis spiritual or cultural ceremonies.
First Nations-run casinos and other on-reserve businesses are also exempt from the new regulations.
“Section 25 of the Charter provides that no treaty rights can be abrogated or derogated by the Crown and this includes First Nations lands on which the casinos operate,” said Davies.
“Some of the casinos have already chosen to become non-smoking. We believe that the others will join this group as positive health initiatives among First Nations people bear results,” he added.
Minister Norris is also pleased that some jurisdictions outside the province’s control are following suit.
“Obviously, this sets a tone for the province, and at the same time there’s some sensitivity to jurisdictions on First Nations reserves and we’re encouraged by those that are passing bylaws and addressing this in other ways,” Norris said.
Workplaces which violate the new Occupational Health and Safety Act rules could face potential fines if they continually disregard the regulations.