Second-hand smoke 'to go'
Mark Wanzel Photo - The health unit has received complaints from drive-thru employees regarding customers not butting out.
Thanks to public pressure and legislation like the Smoke-free Ontario Act, cigarette smoke in the workplace has been a long-standing no-no.
Now, many drive-thru employees are asking for the same protection.
"Lots of people smoke coming through the drive-thru," said Marie Kennedy, who has doled out food and coffee at a Barrie-area restaurant for the last two years. "A lot of them don't even change their cigarette to the other hand on the passenger side.
"They'll hand me their money or take their stuff with a smoke in their hand. It's disgusting."
Leslie Gordon, tobacco program co-ordinator with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said drive-thru employees are not protected by the Smoke-free Ontario Act (SFOA).
"We get complaints all the time on our Health Connection phone line and in person to our tobacco enforcement officers when they are doing routine workplace inspections," she said.
"The complaints mostly come from staff working at drive-thru windows complaining about how gross it is when people pull up and smoke is pouring out of the vehicle and into their workspace."
The Act prohibits smoking in indoor public places, workplaces, work vehicles and outdoor patios that have a covered roof, but not drive-thrus.
"It's not just a bad smell. The fact is if you can smell it, you are breathing it," Gordon said.
"Second-hand smoke causes cancer - we all know that - and it was the rationale behind the Smoke-free Ontario Act, to protect people from its deadly effects. So it makes sense that it should extend to all areas that allow exposure to people," she said.
"But since it wasn't thought of in the original act, it will only change with some public pressure to do so."
While it would be up to provincial legislators at Queen's Park to make changes to the SFOA, business owners don't have to wait for those changes to make their own decisions about smoking on their property.
"Until it is law, businesses have the right and the ability to make their drive-thru areas smoke-free by posting signage to alert people to it. There are businesses that have, on their own, gone ahead and made their drive thrus smoke free," Gordon said.
"This is similar to what is done now at mall doorways, where malls have designated a no smoking area within so many metres of the door. The mall security enforces it and if there are repeated offences, the police can be called and will act under the trespassing laws.
"We recommend that staff and patrons talk to the business owner to get this protection put in place. That is something that can be done immediately to reduce the health risk."
Gordon hopes people who smoke will recognize that they are compromising the health of workers at these windows and will, out of courtesy and concern, butt out well before driving up to a take-out window.
"We'd like to think that most people will do the right thing if signage is posted where people can see it and where they have time to comply, most will. Over time it will be second nature, just like smoke-free indoor spaces have become the norm," she said.
People are becoming more vocal in their opposition to smoking, Gordon added.
"Tobacco use is no longer socially acceptable. Breathing unwanted second-hand smoke is definitely not acceptable, and it has sparked many local bylaws in Simcoe Muskoka around doorways, parks and the places where kids and families gather and play," she said.
"With only about 23% of our residents smoking, they are the minority and it is not acceptable that they put the health of others at risk. However, since there are those who will not willingly put the health of others first, making drive-thrus smoke-free under the Act would be appropriate and welcomed."