A smoking shelter next to the Department of fisheries building in St. John’s. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The only smoke around Confederation Building would be generated by heated debate, not cigarettes, if an advocacy group has its way.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for the Control of Tobacco (ACT) wants the province to prohibit smoking outside and around the provincial legislature, especially since government entities such as Eastern Health have such bans in place.
“It only makes sense to us that the government should consider … seriously consider, (making) their properties smoke-free,” said Kevin Coady, ACT’s executive director.
“It would support these (entities that have already enacted bans), all these others. They are out there trying to do it on their own.”
Coady made the comments after being asked about smoking shelters on government properties.
Provincial departments and affiliated agencies haven’t exactly spent cartons of cash on butt huts, an access to information request found. However, followup calls to government departments and other entities revealed some interesting stories behind the handful of smoke houses near government buildings.
The shelter at the Whitbourne Youth Centre is an example. A justice official did some research and found out that in the mid-’90s, inmates built a gazebo as part of a carpentry program. Once it was completed, the options were to tear it down, sell it or find an on-site use. Staff recommended the latter — and it gained new life as a smoking shelter.
Another interesting puff palace was erected at the College of the North Atlantic campus in Burin. Built a few years back by Transportation and Works and a group of women in an introduction to trades program, the intent was to give smokers a place to go and to keep butts away from the entrances. The building eventually became run down and a safety concern.
It was cleaned up and is now the campus recycling depot.
A smoking shed built two years ago at the Petten Building by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) and the Government Purchasing Agency has interesting origins.
At a cost of $2,800 plus tax and bought through tenders, it was actually recommended by the department’s occupational health and safety committee.
“It supports DFA’s efforts to provide a respectful workplace for all its employees in that it accommodated the needs of employees who smoke, and addressed the potential impact of second-hand smoke on employees who do not smoke,” a spokesman wrote in an email, because Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman was unavailable.
“Smoking is a legal activity, and while DFA supports a healthy lifestyle for its employees, the department must respect an employee’s right to make a decision to smoke.”
The official noted the shelter hasn’t prompted any complaints from employees or the public.
It won’t get any from ACT either. The organization is not adverse to establishing areas so that smokers can be out of the elements.
“We don’t recommend it,” Coady said. “We’re not saying do it, but were not saying, ‘Ridiculous, boys. Tear it down.’ ”
What ACT does recommend are policies declaring properties smoke-free, such is the case at local schools and hospitals.
“Policies like that are about trying to get people to quit, not trying to crucify the smoker,” Coady said.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael doesn’t object to banning smoking on government properties, but she thinks such a policy should be accompanied by programs that help puffers butt out.
“For two reasons,” Michael said. “One, because we know smoking is a very serious addiction, and it’s not something people just easily say, ‘I’m going to give up.’ … Secondly, government makes millions upon million upon millions of dollars from people who smoke, and so if they are gong to make this demand that a place be smoke-free, then I think they have a moral responsibility to make sure they put money into helping people with the cessation of smoking.”
Approached with ACT’s call for a smoke-free Confederation Hill — where many staff currently puff in a fenced area at the back of the building — Premier Kathy Dunderdale appeared torn.
“I’m reluctant to tell people they got to go a half mile away to have a cigarette, but at the same time, I’m just as adamant to say, ‘You’re not smoking on that back step ... or the front step, (because) people going and coming into this building have to walk through your cigarette smoke to get in here, to breathe it.’ I’m not interested that, either. So it’s trying to find a balance,” she said.