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Retailers, Big Tobacco to Challenge Ontario Smoking Ban

TORONTO -- Bar owners and retailers are fuming after the Ontario government introduced new smoke-free legislation billed as one of the toughest anti-tobacco measures in North America on Wednesday, reported the Canadian Press.

The new Smoke Free Ontario act would prohibit smoking in all workplaces and public places -- bars, restaurants, casinos and legion halls among them -- and also restrict the display of tobacco products in stores.

"The bill. . . would protect all Ontarians from the deadly effects of cigarette smoke, whether they are in their office, at a restaurant, in the laundry room of their apartment building, on the floor of a factory, in an underground parking garage or at a shopping mall," Health Minister George Smitherman told the legislature. "In other words, unless Ontarians want to be exposed to cigarette smoke, they won't be."

Smitherman said the legislation, which wouldn't come into effect until May 2006, would also prohibit establishments from permitting smokers to light up on enclosed outdoor patios, as members of private clubs and in so-called "designated smoking rooms" set up by businesses.

The legislation would still permit hotel guests to smoke in designated suites and residents in long-term care facilities to light up, and stops short of banning smoking in private homes.

"If you want to smoke at home, we're not going to stop you," Smitherman said. "We would obviously encourage people with children to step outside to smoke, but we will not legislate this point either."

Meanwhile, retailers, cigarette manufacturers and advocates for the rights of Canada's smokers were mobilizing for a long, arduous battle over the stringent new crackdown.
The legislation also prohibits countertop tobacco displays in convenience stores and also limits the size of behind-the-counter displays, banning so-called "power wall" cigarette displays.

Tobacco sales comprise between 40 and 60 percent of a typical convenience store's business, to say nothing of the lottery tickets, newspapers and gum that smokers pick up when buying a pack of cigarettes, said Dave Bryans, executive director of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.

Most convenience stores are small family businesses that would be devastated by the impact of a ban on retail tobacco displays, he added. "Tobacco's a mainstay for these families," Bryans said. "They're actually catching small business between Big Tobacco and government, and I think that's very wrong."

Retailers are already rattled by an increase in cigarette theft in recent years and fear even more crime if they're forced to leave their counters to retrieve cigarettes for customers, he added.
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