Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

Understanding Our Environment is Key to Promoting Health and Preventing Disease

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Legislation that Works

Legislation that Works

Public Legislation in Canada
Between 1985 and 1990 the number of Canadian municipal policies restricting smoking in public places increased dramatically (Figure 1).1 Early municipal bylaws restricted smoking in confined spaces such as elevators, buses, taxis, escalators, hospital rooms, municipal offices, and retail outlets.2 Over time, policies became more comprehensive and were strengthened to restrict smoking in many public spaces (Figure 2). For example, legislation has now moved from restricting smoking inside public buildings to restricting smoking in building entrances and doorways, as well as in public parks and on beaches.

Municipal Contributions
Because Canadian provincial and territorial governments were relatively slow to enact legislation banning public smoking, municipal governments led the way with local smoke-free bylaws. By 2003, more than 300 Canadian municipalities had some form of non-smoking legislation or bylaw. Protection focused on day cares, schools, stores, government workplaces, and public transport.3 However, many bylaws included exemptions for restaurants and bars and continued to allow segregated smoking areas.

The cities of Victoria (1999), Waterloo (2000), and Ottawa (2001) were among the first municipalities to pass bylaws that did not allow for separate smoking areas in restaurants and bars, commonly known as “designated smoking rooms.” Eventually, the province of Ontario passed legislation banning smoking in all public places and workplaces in 2006, and the province of British Columbia did the same in 2008.

As of July 2011, all Canadian provinces and territories have legislation in place requiring that restaurants, bars, and workplaces be smoke-free. Provinces and territories set the minimum standards and allow municipalities to further restrict public smoking with stronger local bylaws. Federal government legislation bans smoking in federal buildings and regulated businesses, such as airports.

  • 1. Lemstra M, Neudorf C, Opondo J. Implications of a public smoking ban. Can J Public Health. 2008;99(1):62-65.
  • 2. Asbridge M. Public place restrictions on smoking in Canada: assessing the role of the state, media, science and public health advocacy. Soc Sci Med. 2004;58(1):13-24.
  • 3. Health Canada. The national strategy: Moving forward. The 2003 progress report on tobacco. Progress in strategic directions. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2003.