Toronto smokers may soon have fewer places to light up.
On Monday, the board of health voted to go ahead with plans to ban smoking in several outdoor spaces, including bar and restaurant patios, entrances to public buildings, city-run sports fields, hospital grounds, public squares, and bus shelters.
The proposed changes would strengthen existing provincial and municipal legislation, which currently permits smoking on uncovered patios and nine metres from hospital entrances.
Toronto Public Health will now start consultations with the public and other stakeholders and will report back to the board next year.
Medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown said that the proposed measures would not only reduce exposure to second hand smoke, but more importantly, would discourage young people from taking up smoking by eliminating situations in which it's seen as socially acceptable.
"Smoking in public places does two things; it exposes non-smokers to second hand smoke, which we know has an impact on health; and secondly, it helps normalize smoking," McKeown said. "When young people see a crowd of people enjoying themselves and smoking, it reinforces the idea that smoking is ok. And I don't think any of us want to see young people smoking."
Michael Perley of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco said that strengthening existing prohibitions would restore the city's reputation as being at the forefront of anti-smoking legislation. Toronto was considered a leader when, in 1999, council voted to prohibit puffing indoors and at all workplaces.
"It will put us right back on the frontier," Perley told the board meeting on Monday.
"I can assure you that whatever Toronto does on this subject matters more than any other municipality."
TPH data show there is support for extending the smoking ban. The 2011 Toronto Health Survey found 86 per cent of respondents would back a bylaw mandating smoke-free doorways at public buildings like malls, and roughly 74 per cent favour butting out on patios.
But not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of extending the smoking ban.
Marco Monaco of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association told the board that making it harder for customers to smoke would dent profits, and argued restaurateurs are already being hurt by tough economic times and newcomers like food trucks.
"Any move to further legislate smoking restrictions on patios will come at a time when many of the city's restaurant and bar operators are struggling to survive in an economy that has still not yet recovered from the recession," Monaco said. "We know from past experiences that when smoking bans are implemented, business suffers."
Debra DeMonte, who owns the Longest Yard restaurants on Bloor and Mount Pleasant, told the board that it was unfair to constantly change the rules around smoking. The initial ban was phased in three stages and was then modified by provincial legislation in 2006.
"When you brought out the new smoking ban, you piecemealed it together," she said. "You cherry pick and you cherry pick year after year, and you don't understand the small margins and how hard myself as an independent operator works."
But Councillor John Filion, who chairs the board of health, says restaurant owners made similar arguments 13 years ago. At the time, they predicted the sweeping smoking ban would doom Toronto's hospitality industry, but it has only grown since then.
Asked why TPH should bother conducting consultations if the board is already determined to push ahead with the beefed-up ban, Filion said the details of how it should be implemented are still up for debate.
"There could always be consultation on the how, the when," he said. "But as far as, ‘is it a good idea to protect the public health of the residents of Toronto?" - the answer is yes."
Council would have to approve any changes to the bylaw.