Dying waitress pleads for smoking ban

Wants provinces and territories to ban smoking in all workplaces

Heather Crowe doesn’t want to hear any more excuses. The poster girl for Health Canada’s latest anti-smoking blitz wants provincial and territorial governments to step forward and ban smoking in all workplaces before anybody else has to face what she is going through.

Crowe, 57, is dying from lung cancer. She never smoked a day in her life. But she was exposed to second-hand smoke in the workplace while waiting on tables for more than 40 years. She made headlines for winning workers’ compensation benefits in Ontario last year for her illness.

Neil Collishaw, research director at Ottawa-based Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said he hopes Crowe’s public battle sends a strong message to employers to make every corner of every workplace smoke-free.

“It’s hazardous at any level,” said Collishaw. “There is no way to completely solve the problem other than to get rid of smoking entirely in the workplace. That is the cheapest, most satisfactory and effective solution.”

And if that’s not enough to convince organizations to butt out, there’s the legal argument that could hit corporate pocketbooks. Crowe, who is now volunteering with Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, has chosen not to pursue litigation against her former employers. But Collishaw said once a claim like this is settled, it opens the door to the whole issue of liability.

“And employers are indeed liable,” he said. “Every province in this country has occupational health and safety legislation that squarely places general duty on employers to provide a healthy and safe workplace to the extent reasonably practical, and it’s most certainly reasonably practical to ban smoking in the workplace.”

While most employers have banned smoking in the workplace, there are still some — most notably in the hospitality industry — that haven’t followed suit. That’s because customers that go out to restaurants and bars want to relax, have a smoke after dinner or while they’re having a drink, he said. And the owners encourage this because when the customers are more relaxed, they tend to stay longer and spend more money.

“What gets forgotten in all of that is there’s people that work here,” said Collishaw. “Bar and restaurant workers deserve every bit the same level of protection from hazards at work as every other worker in this country. And isn’t it shameful that we’re not giving it to them?”

The anti-smoking movement has gained a lot of momentum in recent years. Collishaw said British Columbia and Prince Edward Island have almost complete bans on smoking in the workplace, while Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are working on instituting bans.

“And we’ve at least got started in places not known for their progressive health and social legislation, like Alberta,” he said.

The Ontario Medical Association released a paper in February calling for an all-out ban on smoking in the workplace (for more information, visit www.hrreporter.com, click on “Search” and enter article #2376.)

As more municipal governments enact smoking bans, and provincial and territorial governments jump on the bandwagon, employers might want to take additional steps to help employees who smoke kick the habit entirely.

Bruce Bell, president of eHealth Communication in Toronto, providers of a smoking cessation program for employers, said changes in legislation provide organizations with an opportunity to encourage employees to stop smoking. It could be as simple as providing information materials from the Canadian Cancer Society or as involved as bringing in outside consultants to set up programs.

But the key to success is offering a flexible, ongoing program because employees won’t usually be ready to quit exactly when employers ask them to. For example, offering a smoking cessation program during the employees’ lunch hour would probably be a barrier to participation, he said. Employers need to commit time during office hours and need to allow for variations in how individuals deal with giving up addictive habits.

“If they’re not offered on a continuous basis, how do you deal with the employee who falls off the wagon?” he said. “If the program has a set timetable, then where do they refit themselves back into the program? You can’t tell an employee, ‘Listen. On Friday, it’s smoking cessation day. Show up.’ The readiness for change is a big issue.”

Organizations need to help employees avoid the pitfalls that often spell disaster for anyone trying to give up cigarettes. Aversion therapies that try to modify the employee’s lifestyle habits are usually not effective, he said.

“The concept of don’t go to that bar where you regularly go because that’s where people smoke, or don’t be around smokers in a restaurant or don’t go over to somebody’s house who is a smoker usually doesn’t work,” said Bell. “That’s introducing a complete lifestyle change in addition to getting rid of the habit. People aren’t born smokers, and they need to be retrained to be non-smokers.”

Another critical success factor is making sure whatever program is used is also available to family members, he said.

“Because if my spouse is a smoker and I’m trying to quit, and she’s still smoking in the home, that could be a real barrier,” said Bell.

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