Councillor’s controversial comments overshadow smoking debate
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter2
Following a public participation meeting that generated little actual participation, the inflammatory comments of Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson overshadowed the debate around smoking in outdoor public spaces.
During its meeting on Monday (Oct. 1), Community Services Committee members voted to support a nine-metre (30-feet) restriction of smoking around playgrounds and from the front of municipal buildings.
Henderson supported acceptance of the nine-metre ban, which was moved by Ward 2 Councillor Bill Armstrong, but only after attacking the research techniques of the Canadian Cancer Society, which was represented by volunteer and Western University student Stephanie Dorman.
Henderson said it was important to hear “the whole story” and not just what sounds “politically correct” around the issue of second-hand smoke and cancer.
“The lady from the cancer (society) will read out a few things, but I will put out some things. When I hear some information coming from the cancer society, I want real research coming at me, not just what I have read in the paper 800 times,” Henderson said. “Sure smoke has an effect on people, but there are a lot of things, our buses, the cars in town in one minute will give off more pollution than everyone in London smoking for a year. Pollution is going to kill people, but that is not a reason to take people’s rights away from them.”
Committee chair and Ward 7 Councillor Matt Brown would ask Henderson twice to stick to the topic of the bylaw while Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher called a point of order to ask the councillor to not directly address members of the public.
Henderson agreed to both requests, but continued with his off-topic thoughts.
“We have other issues to do with health care, we should be looking at our food service, our sugars, our stress,” Henderson said. “Twenty per cent of London residents smoke to basically have some kind of calming effect. Now suicide is number one in the U.S. So let’s try to keep people living, we are living in the second happiest city in Ontario.”
Among the statistics Dorman pointed to were that tobacco use is “directly responsible” for 30 per cent of all cancer deaths and 85 per cent of lung cancer deaths.
“The need for increased tobacco control is still great,” Dorman said. “Today over two million Ontarians smoke, thousands start every day, and every year approximately 13,000 Ontarians will die from tobacco use.”
After the meeting, a seemingly shaken Dorman said she stands behind the research that is done by the Canadian Cancer Society. Although she understands why some people might question what they hear, Dorman steadfastly reinforced her belief that cancer research can’t be denied.
“I think people sometimes are hesitant to believe statistics because they are thrown at you a lot. But if you go to the primary research articles that are in peer-reviewed, published journals, the evidence proves that smoking cigarettes does cause cancer,” Dorman said. “Individuals will die from second-hand smoke, from cancer.”
Other people speaking in support of the ban were Jonathon Bullick, from Scent-Free London and Linda Stobo, manager of chronic disease prevention and tobacco control with Middlesex-London Health Unit, both of whom spoke out clearly as to the harming effects of second-hand smoke.
Brown said the recommendation for a nine-metre distance “strikes the right balance” between protecting individuals from second-hand smoke and upholding the rights of smokers.
“Our conversations throughout this process have been focused on protecting children,” Brown said. “Making sure our young people aren’t exposed to second-hand smoke and that families enjoying play equipment, and park amenities, also aren’t subjected to it. I think these two motions address exactly that.”
The public participation portion of the meeting included six previously scheduled presentations and two more from individuals who came forward during the meeting.
The dozen or so people who sat in the public gallery, only a few of whom spoke on the smoking issue, is something that Brown said is a concern. However, he also says the “modest” turnout might stem from the fact most people who smoke already refrain from doing so around playgrounds and other recreational amenities.
“When it comes to decisions such as this, they need to be community decisions, which is why we have public participation meetings,” Brown said. “I can’t think of a time in the last two years I have seen a person smoking near the play equipment or the sports amenities. I think it is understood. This bylaw will codify that understanding.”
The issue will come back to the full council at its Oct. 9 meeting.
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