Smokers kicked to the curb

This winter will be Montreal’s last as a city that with restrictions on its nightlife. Cities across Canada and the US have one-by-one forced their smokers out onto the streets, and after May 2006, Montreal inhabitants and visitors alike will also be fighting for sidewalk space on the busy Main.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before health concerns and non-smoking advocates caught up with our city, the last North American holdout in the war of tobacco rights and freedoms; It is the right to a smoke-free environment versus the freedom to live as we choose and make our own unhealthy choices.

Soon, the option to stay inside and have a cigarette with a drink or after a meal will no longer be ours.

Non-smokers will argue that they deserve to eat in a restaurant or go out to a bar without breathing in nasty second-hand fumes. Waitresses complain that they cannot take the more lucrative evening shifts without suffering the shortness of breath and smelly clothing that come with it.

Soon they won’t need to worry about their right to breathe easy. The new law prohibits smoking in public spaces where it was previously allowed, including on school grounds, restaurants, pubs, bars, under big tops, in shelters open to the public, and within nine meters of a university building, vocational college building, childcare center or an external door to a health and social services institution.

Julius Grey, the constitutional lawyer who will be representing Montreal bar owners in their Supreme Court battle against the upcoming restrictions, argues that smokers can be safely contained in well-ventilated designated smoking rooms.

They are searching for solutions because Montreal bar owners are worried about losing their businesses. They point to examples of how anti-smoking legislation affected other cities like Ottawa, where about 60 bars closed as a direct result of their new non-smoking laws.

In Vancouver there are bar owners who take the risk of allowing clients to smoke, even if they will be fined. They figure the cost of the fine is less than the profit they would lose if their smoking customers stopped showing up.

Not every smoking facility in Montreal will be forced to turn away tobacco users, however. Certain cigar lounges will remain open, and possibly even increase their business when the law goes into effect. According to the newly tabled Bill 112, pipe tobacco and cigars will be permitted in cigar rooms that have been specifically set up for it, have been around since May 10, 2005, and make at least $20,000 of their gross income from cigar and pipe tobacco sales. Will cigarette smokers turn to cigars or pipes to get their fix?

A bigger concern to the city may be the affect anti-smoking laws could have on the amount of tourists we attract. Montreal is often referred to as a very “European” city, and that image will quite possibly change with the implementation of this bill. It may affect the unique-ness of the city, the laissez-faire attitude we seem to have claimed for our own.

People from New York have been visiting Montreal to escape their own smoking-restricted nightlife. We may all have to start venturing further to find nighttime freedom.

Montreal is one of the only smoking cities leftin New York. Are we going to sacrifice our own image to become the next Toronto?

It’s hardly surprising that Montreal eventually opted to join with other Canadian cities in forcing its smoking population out onto the streets. But how will our great city’s party image be affected? Montrealers will soon join the ranks of despondent smokers across the country.

The bar owners are claiming that Bill 112 is an infringement on their client’s individual rights. Grey says the restrictions actually violate our Canadian and Quebec charters, infringing on our freedom.

It doesn’t make much sense that they keep the habit legal, and just outlaw where it is done. If smoking were really so bad for our health and detrimental to others, why wouldn’t they just make smoking illegal?

Instead they are making it socially unacceptable, forcing smokers out onto the sidewalks. People should be allowed to choose between a smoking environment or a non-smoking environment.

Montreal should fight for the right to a nightlife without restrictions, both to maintain our “sin city” image and to protect our freedom of choice.

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