Irving refinery's smoke-free award draws criticism

Some people are questioning the Heart and Stroke Foundation's decision to give the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery a tobacco-free award.

Heart and Stroke Foundation presents company with Tobacco-Free Innovation Award

Some people say giving the Irving Oil refinery a tobacco-free award is a misplaced accolade. 2:32

The Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John was given an award on Thursday by the Heart and Stroke Foundation for its efforts to create a tobacco-free environment and improve the health of workers.

But some critics say rewarding the refinery for being smoke-free is a misplaced accolade, given the thousands of barrels of highly-flammable materials on site and given its emissions — not only from the refinery, but from its railway operations as well.

"It's sad," said Sharon Murphy, of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

"It's not just ironic and it's not really very funny. It's quite worrisome," she said.

"We have these awesome groups that are doing so much for the health of people, but on the other side we have regulations that aren't protective of the public health in any way when it comes to fumes and trains that hold God knows what."

Still, Dan Connolly, of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, stands by the decision to present the company with the Tobacco-Free Innovation Award.

"Irving Oil have been able to reduce smoking to a point where where there's no smoking on site. We think that's a significant public health issue," Connolly said.

Irving Oil Ltd.'s Saint John refinery is the first refinery in Canada to go smoke-free. (CBC)

"In New Brunswick, we have some of the highest smoking rates in the country and we really need to address that."

Although it may seem odd to some that smoking was ever allowed with the flammable materials, Irving is the first refinery in Canada to go smoke-free, said Alex Coles, the company's director of environment, health and safety.

"We have zero-tolerance policies and one of the policies is you're not allowed to smoke on site. This is about smoking in designated areas," he said.

"We're happy to receive the award from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. We think it's a bit of recognition for something that has to do with safety as a core value at Irving."