October 18, 2009 - Smokers will be banned from lighting up in outdoor areas where food and drinks are served under new laws being proposed by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government.
It will force smokers to move at least two meters (two meters would be 78 inches which equals six and a half feet) away from eating and drinking areas if they want a cigarette.
The move - mirroring similar measures in Queensland and Tasmania - is about ensuring a smoke-free workplace for waiters and waitresses, the ACT government says.
But Health Minister Katy Gallagher concedes businesses have a tough time ahead should the laws be passed. Under the draft laws, any outdoor area where food or drinks are served must remain smoke-free, with restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs - not the smokers - facing fines if they don't toe the line<. Ms Gallagher said she expected opposition from industry groups, but maintained no worker should be exposed to smoke in their workplace. "There just simply isn't an argument that you can run that says, `well it's not okay to smoke in anyone else's workplace, but we can smoke in a waiter and waitress's workplace'," she told reporters on Thursday, October 15th. Asked about the rights of smokers, she conceded it was "a balancing act". But other states had proved the system was workable. "It's made it more difficult for smokers to smoke in public, but the sky hasn't fallen in," Ms Gallagher said. She was unrepentant about pushing the no-smoking message, with the government also introducing draft laws to ban smoking at all underage events. It's also considering following New South Wales' (NSW) lead in banning smoking in cars with children.
Ms Gallagher admitted the new change could force businesses to outlay cash to create new smoking areas, just three years after an indoor smoking ban compelled them to rezone service areas. She denied the move was likely to deter customers from visiting Canberra's entertainment spots.
"Change doesn't come easily, but I believe that we have been as reasonable as we can whilst maintaining the position that we're coming from, which is to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco smoke," Ms Gallagher said. The industry had been aware of the potential changes for at least 18 months, she said, meaning businesses would have plenty of time to adapt.
If passed in the legislative assembly, the restrictions will commence in December 2010.
References: ACT govt cracks down on smoking outdoors, Australian Associated Press (AAP), 10/16/2009; Great News for Canberrans – Smoking to be banned in outdoor food and drinking areas by Captcha, Typeboard.com, 10/15/2009.
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