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Monday, 26 March 2012 02:49

Alberta to ban smoking in cars carrying children

By Keith Gerein, March 19, 2012
EDMONTON - In a rare moment of partisan agreement prior to the provincial election, Alberta MLAs have approved an opposition bill that will make it illegal to smoke in vehicles when children are present.

The bill, championed by Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, unanimously passed third reading in the legislature late Monday.

“We disagree 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 passed the bill.”

It’s unclear when the legislation might come into effect. Sherman’s bill originally called for a implementation date of Jan. 1, 2013, but he later agreed to an amendment that has no fixed date.

Some Conservative members, including Health Minister Fred Horne, said they would like time to simultaneously bring in a variety of other tobacco-reduction measures.

The government is currently working on such a strategy, which could include higher tobacco taxes, tougher restrictions on flavoured tobacco products that appeal to minors, and a crackdown on sales to minors.

The legislation must still receive royal assent and proclamation before it becomes law, though it’s unclear whether the government will pursue these steps before or after the election.

“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 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. This is about setting a new social standard and sending a message that we need to protect kids from tobacco.”

He said a recent Lung Association poll of junior-high students in Alberta found 30 per cent of them are exposed to smoke in vehicles at least once a week.

If passed, smokers will be prohibited from lighting up in a car when anyone under the age of 18 is inside.

A $1,000 fine would be levied for a first offence, though Hagen believes a ticketing procedure will be introduced that would allow for a smaller fine for those who avoid the courts.

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

Veteran Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald said he could not recall another opposition bill that has survived third reading. He said a bill introduced by a Liberal MLA in the mid 1990s passed second reading, but then went no further.

If the bill does receive final proclamation, Alberta will become the ninth province to implement such legislation, Hagen said. Quebec will be the lone holdout.

Sherman introduced similar legislation in 2008 when he was a Tory MLA, but it fell off the order paper.

Currently, two Alberta municipalities have bylaws banning smoking in cars when minors are around.

Okotoks was the first in 2008, followed by Leduc, which put its bylaw into effect last July with a $100 fine for a first offence.
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