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The Canadian Press

N.S. town bans smoking when kids in vehicle

THE Canadian Press, (various newspapers across Canada ) November 19, 2007

HALIFAX - A move by a small Nova Scotia town to ban smoking in vehicles carrying children is being applauded by the Canadian Cancer Society, which dismissed criticism that the law is too intrusive by citing the evolution of anti-smoking laws across the country.

The town council of Wolfville, about a hour's drive north of Halifax, made history Monday evening as all seven councillors voted in favour of the bylaw - the first of its kind in Canada.

Meg McCallum, a spokeswoman for the cancer agency, said the bylaw is part of a societal shift that began years ago when similar bans were placed on airplanes followed by workplaces, restaurants and bars across much of Canada.

"It's all about what's best for children and youth," she said from Halifax. "This is part of evolving to a culture where being tobacco-free is the norm."

The law, expected to come into effect June 1, 2008, would prohibit exposing children under 18 to second-hand smoke in a vehicle.

Nova Scotia already has a ban on smoking in public places - Wolfville led the way on that front, too.

And according to Health Canada, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have since enacted similar laws.

Wolfville Mayor Bob Stead has insisted the law is not about ``hunting for people who are violating the bylaw," but raising awareness.

"For the most part, it's a matter of bringing to people's attention the health risks that are associated with smoking in cars, particularly for children," he said in a recent interview.

The town plans to launch an educational campaign this week to warn residents about the new bylaw and draw attention to the harm caused by second-hand smoke in vehicles.

But the bylaw will not be just a token for the anti-smoking movement, the mayor said.

First-time offenders can expect a warning, but a subsequent offence will result in a fine of about $50, or possibly Read More ../p>

"If we come across it, we will react appropriately," he said, adding that the RCMP will help enforce the bylaw.

Signs will be posted at entry points into the community - a popular tourist destination - to make motorists aware of the law.

On the other side of the debate, McCallum acknowledged the law could prompt concerns about the infringement of civil liberties as did seatbelt legislation many years ago.

"(People asked) 'Isn't this a violation of my right? Shouldn't I be able to do what I want in my own vehicle?'," she said. "Yet that legislation is now long-standing, and there are very few individuals who would question putting on a seatbelt in a car."

As of late last week, the town had received nine letters and e-mails in support of the new bylaw and four opposed - two from Ontario and two from Nova Scotia, each one arguing that the bylaw would be too intrusive.

The mayor said he hoped the bylaw will put pressure on other jurisdictions to follow suit.

Lucas Wide, a spokesman for Nova Scotia's Health Promotion Department, said town council in Wolfville has the right to enact the bylaw, but the province has no plans to do the same.

"We're going to monitor the situation and see how it develops," he said

"We're certainly not even at that point yet where we're looking or have begun discussions with the Department of Justice ... as to how it could potentially work."

Laws banning smoking in vehicles with children are already in place in parts of the United States and Australia, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

McCallum said the bylaw could not only improve the health of children, but discourage them from picking up the habit themselves.

The concentration of second-hand smoke, which has been linked to asthma, sudden infant death syndrome and cancers, is higher in a vehicle than in a larger space such as a bar or restaurant, the cancer agency says.

And forget about rolling down a window for ventilation.

"It just pushes Read More .. the smoke back into the backseat," said McCallum.

"(Children's) respiratory systems are less developed and their respiratory rates are higher, so they're breathing quicker and taking in Read More .. the toxins."