- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

TORONTO — Giving smokers the cold shoulder will take on new meaning in the frigid Canadian Arctic on Tuesday, when the government begins enforcing laws that compel people to puff outside, even in subzero temperatures.

The antismoking legislation came into effect May 1 in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the vast northern regions of Canada stretching from Alaska to Baffin Island.

Fines range from $55 for smoking too close to a doorway to $3,650 for a business allowing smoking on the premises. Lighting up in a public place could cost the offender $365.

So far, the ban appears to be working. Only a few verbal warnings have been given. Government officials, who won’t start levying fines until June, say they are surprised by the level of compliance.

“People are really accepting of it. They are really understanding,” said Erin Levy, tobacco reduction specialist for the Nunavut government based in Iqaluit on Baffin Island, just south of the Arctic Circle.

The temperature in Iqaluit at midday Wednesday was 32 degrees, relatively warm for a place where the high on a hot day in July probably will not surpass 65 degrees.

Smokers account for about 62 percent of the far north’s 68,000 people, most of whom are Eskimo. Among teenagers, the rate is close to 80 percent.

The only public place where smoking is allowed indoors is the local prison, but that is only if there is a blizzard, and smoke breaks are limited to two a day.

The crackdown on tobacco wasn’t a shock to Iqaluit; the town of 6,000 banned smoking in most public places in 2002. This year’s legislation merely extended that ban to all workplaces, including bars and offices.

“People basically knew it was coming and just decided to comply,” said Terry Cameron, chief safety officer for the territory.

Steve Cook, director of the 100-member Chamber of Commerce for Baffin Island, said some bars are building smoking shacks to help their smokers weather the cold.

“As you can appreciate, it’s a lot different than a sidewalk cafe in Toronto,” Mr. Cook said.

The government has a financial incentive in no-smoking policies. The north’s sparse facilities mean huge costs for Canada’s socialized medicine to ship patients to southern hospitals for cancer treatment.

Cancer rates among men in the north are twice the national average, and women are four times more likely to get cancer. A 1998 study at the Iqaluit hospital showed almost half of babies younger than 6 months suffer lower respiratory tract infections, the highest rate in the world and an effect of living in smoker households.

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