‘No brainer’ needs to be law

Outlawing smoking in a vehicle in Alberta with children present would be a giant step in protecting youngsters from the deadly, addictive poisons.

Outlawing smoking in a vehicle in Alberta with children present would be a giant step in protecting youngsters from the deadly, addictive poisons.

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman this week opened the gate to that possibility by successfully proposing such a law. But it’s still premature for the anti-smoking movement to claim victory.

“Children see children do: Your children are twice as likely to smoke (tobacco) if you do.”

That’s one of the warnings printed on a package cigarettes.

Other warnings include the messages that: smoking during pregnancy can harm the child; second-hand smoke can lead to serious health matters; smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer; and nicotine is more addictive than heroin and cocaine.

Armed with those proven claims, and others, Sherman that asserted children are vulnerable and it’s the responsibility of adults to ensure their health and safety.

His bill passed third reading late Monday unanimously, a rare, swift passage for a private member’s bill presented by a member of the opposition. “We disagree (in the legislature) on many things, but my plea to everyone was that this bill was a no-brainer and the right thing to do,” Sherman said. “I’m very pleased to see MLAs from all parties put everything else aside and pass the bill.”

If it becomes law, it would be illegal for smokers to light up in a vehicle when anyone under the age of 18 is present. Fines could range as high as $1,000 for a first offence.

Anti-smoking advocates rightfully applaud the bill. “It’s a great bill and it will go a long way to protecting the health of children, particularly in confined spaces where they are exposed to second-hand smoke,” said Les Hagen, executive director of the advocacy group Action on Smoking and Health.

“It’s great to see that the health of children takes precedence over party politics, particularly at election time,” said Hagen. “This is about setting a new social standard and sending a message that we need to protect kids from tobacco.”

However, while the bill is a “no-brainer,” the bill has a long ways to go before it becomes law — perhaps a year, perhaps even longer. Sherman’s bill must still receive royal assent and proclamation before the proposed law is on the books. It’s unclear if the Tories will proceed with those steps before or after the election. And depending on the results of the election, Sherman may have to start from square one with the proposal. He introduced similar legislation in 2008 when he was a Tory MLA, but it fell off the order paper.

Sherman’s bill initially called for the law to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. He later agreed to an amendment with no fixed date.

Despite the bill receiving third reading, the Tories hinted revisions might be in order.

Health Minister Fred Horne said his government would like to bring in additional tobacco-reduction measures like higher tobacco taxes and a crackdown on sales to minors. How effective such measures can be is up for debate.

And Tory MLA David Xiao suggested broadening the bill to include people with mental disabilities who might not understand the dangers of second-hand smoke.

The $1,000 fine for a first offence is also questionable. A ticket carrying lesser fines for those wanting to avoid the courts is more realistic.

Whatever the outcome of the election, Sherman’s concerns must be addressed quickly.

The province must not drag its feet. Eight provinces have already brought in legislation protecting children from second-hand smoke in a vehicle.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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