N.S. smokers face $2,000 for cigarettes, just $400 for joints

Nova Scotians could face higher fines for puffing cigarettes in
public than smoking joints.

Proposed federal legislation unveiled Tuesday would eliminate
criminal penalties for possessing marijuana but impose fines ranging from
$250 to $400 or more.

Meanwhile, tobacco smokers who dare to light up in public places
face maximum $2,000 fines under Nova Scotia's tough new Smoke-free Places
Act, which came into effect in January.

Halifax bar owner and smoking-law opponent Victor Syperek said the
discrepancy points to the wrong-headedness of the provincial law.

"I think it's a perfect picture of just how ridiculous government is
sometimes," he said. "The cigarette (law) is a fanatical knee-jerk reaction
to something by people who like to control other people's lives. It has
nothing to do with smoking."

Provincial health officials said Tuesday they're unsure whether the
provincial law will have to be rewritten in light of the federal changes.

Right now, lone smokers aren't being nailed under the new provincial
law, said Nancy Hoddinott, co-ordinator of tobacco strategy in the Office
of Health Promotion.

"We are not at this point ticketing individuals," she said.

Instead, alcohol and gaming inspectors visiting establishments with
liquor licences, as well as agriculture and fishery inspectors in eating
establishments are warning businesses that aren't enforcing the smoking
law, she said.

Business owners and employers seem to be heeding the warnings, and
no tickets have been issued yet, said Ms. Hoddinott.

Business owners face stiffer fines under the act - $2,000 for a
first offence, $5,000 for a second offence and $10,000 on a third occasion.

The establishments could also potentially lose their liquor licence.

Lawyer Craig Clark, who this week successfully defended New Glasgow
bar employee Candace Mason against a charge under that town's anti-smoking
bylaw, said the proposed changes actually put pot smoking on a par with
tobacco and liquor offences.

"In New Glasgow, when they charge people that are strictly smoking,
as opposed to the proprietors who own the bar, I would say the fines are
only going to be in that range, $150 to $200," he said. "To me it looks
like they're going the right way in terms of the possession side of it."

But Mr. Clark pointed to another potential loophole in existing
smoking laws.

He said the New Glasgow bylaw refers only to tobacco smoke.

"I guess the possibility looms . . . somebody could go into a bar
and light up a marijuana joint and be completely exempt from the New
Glasgow town bylaw but be (given) a ticket under the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act for having a marijuana joint," he said.

The same may be true of the provincial Smoke-free Places Act.

It states that " 'smoke' means to smoke, hold or otherwise have
control over ignited tobacco."

Source: Halifax Herald (CN NS)
Contact letters@herald.ns.ca
Website: http://www.herald.ns.ca/
Copyright: 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited
Pubdate: Wed., May 28, 2003