column was published in the North
Shore News on
Feb. 9, 2000)
‘Nicotine Nazis’ should butt out
By Leo Knight
anti-smoking crusade by the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) is
really getting ridiculous.
let me first say that I do not smoke cigarettes, although I used
to be a smoker. I will, however, plead guilty to taking some
pleasure in an occasional corona (Dominican or Honduran
preferably). Having said that, I have no axe to grind in this
debate beyond some observations.
week I was asked to a meeting downtown with a professional
colleague. The usual meeting place was eschewed in favor of
another establishment. The new place was chosen because my
colleague is a smoker and he wanted to go to a pub not complying
with the WCB ban.
instead of overt non-compliance, the bar was charging patrons $2
"rent" for an ashtray.
the money raised is to be applied to a legal fund in the event
of enforcement action by the WCB.
to the bartender I spoke to, they were raising over $1,000 per
week in this fashion. I might add the pub was full of mostly
non-smoking patrons, but full.
next day, a Saturday afternoon, I met with a business associate
in a well-known North Vancouver pub, the Queen's Cross. The
Saturday afternoon trade in that long-time North Shore fixture
consisted of the two of us and one couple seated at the bar
at least in my experience, the pub would be fairly full on a
Saturday afternoon. The bartender confirmed my thoughts and said
he personally was losing over a third of his normal income in
tips because of the downturn in business.
couple of days later I was in Valemont, a small town about four
hours north of Kamloops. I went for dinner in a pub across from
the hotel, an airy, modern establishment called the Loose Moose.
I encountered an equally quiet pub at the height of the dinner
hour and with hockey games on the myriad of TV screens around
bartender described the changes to the business since the WCB
regulations came into effect. She said people traveling through
now just have something to eat and return to their rooms with a
six-pack. She specifically mentioned the snowmobile aficionados
called "sledders" who come there from Alberta.
are only three liquor establishments in Valemont. Beside the
Loose Moose, there is the bar at the Valemont hotel and a local
far as I was able to determine they were all in reluctant
compliance. Even the Legion, which is constructing a separate
ventilated room for the old soldiers to have their smoke along
with their wobbly pop.
current practice is to go outside in the snow and cold to suck
back a cigarette before returning to their glasses and their
memories inside. The spectre of seeing men in their 70s and 80s,
who had fought wars for freedom, being forced outside to indulge
in what is for many a life-long habit, is ironic indeed.
I said initially, I have no particular axe to grind in all of
this. But on Monday morning I was listening to Peter Warren on
CKNW and he was speaking with a guest he described as "Joe
to the story being told, "Joe SixPack" had been to the
Grizzly game in Vancouver and had visited several watering holes
before and after the game. In one such place he encountered a
customer smoking despite the WCB posters of premise compliance.
hero asked management to have the man extinguish the offending
butt. Management refused, saying they had no authority to
enforce a WCB regulation if the customer chose not to comply.
SixPack" asked for, and ultimately received, his money back
and left the bar.
the radio interview, "Joe SixPack" stated he would be
calling the WCB snitch line to report the incident.
caller asked if "Joe's" middle name was Ian, and
received a "no comment" in reply. In truth,
"Joe" was really Ian Koenigsfest, long-time CKNW
employee and former producer of Philip Till's World Tonight
the deception? The truth is, it would appear, that Koenigsfest
is one of the self-appointed enforcers, the smoking police.
people go from bar to bar looking for non-compliance even though
they may have never set foot in the establishment before and
never will again, merely to call the snitch line.
Nicotine Nazis have been around for years and have toiled in
virtual obscurity. Now the new WCB regulations have empowered
them like never before.
contacted the WCB to try to find out if the snitch line was
being dominated by the same people over and over again. Not
surprisingly, the Nicotine Nazis do not have to identify
themselves when making a complaint serious enough to cause a
significant fine or even put someone out of business.
enough, Donna Freeman, the WCB Director of Public Affairs, also
let it slip that the six people manning the phones were WCB
employees but the rest of the cost was being borne by the health
prodded further and she confirmed it "is a joint initiative
between WCB and the Ministry of Health."
I found this very interesting because earlier in the
conversation I asked why the WCB was driving the anti-smoking
campaign through regulations and not the government by
instituting a broader legislative ban on smoking in public
places such as was done in California?
said the WCB was not privy "to what the government has
planned or not planned."
really? Then why the joint initiative?
support the long-term goal of eliminating smoking from our
society. But it is as likely to happen anyway given the current
trends in a decade or so. Why must we be subjected to the sort
of nannyism displayed by, of all people, the WCB?
issue is really societal and no amount of propaganda can change
that. Therefore, it is the government that must address it, not
the WCB. But the government seems to be hiding behind the WCB's
skirts on this one.
I wonder how this policy is going down in the bars frequented by the Teamsters, or the ILWU or the IWA?