Private club challenges Ontario smoking ban

A private smokers club in Smiths Falls challenged Ontario's indoor smoking ban with its grand opening Friday. The club's founder was charged the day before it opened.

A private smokers clubinSmiths Falls challenged Ontario's indoor smoking ban with its grand opening Friday — and Ontario officials did not brave thefumes to attend.

Instead, the club's founder was charged under the province's Smoke-Free Ontario actthe day before it opened.

The grand opening of Do' Little's pub as a club for members of a private smokers associationtook place at noon at the Comfort Inn on Centre Street in Smiths Falls, about 65 kilometres south of Ottawa. It was attended by about a dozen club members, a CBC reporter on-site estimated.

Butmembers of the association, called Smokers Choice,had already been puffing awayinside forabout a week.

So far, the club has attracted about 400 members inthe townofapproximately 10,000, said member Gary Davis.

The pub received its first charges under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act on the eve of its grand opening.

On Thursday, Mike Kennedy, a founder and director of Smokers Choice, was charged with allowing a patron to smoke, failing to post no-smoking signs, and failing to ensure ashtrays have been removed. He is scheduled to appear in court in Perth on Oct. 3.

The provincial act, which went into effect May 31, bans smoking in all indoor workplaces and enclosed public places.

The pub, which serves both food and liquor in addition to allowing smoking, is only open to members, who must pay a fee of $4 per month, beover the age of 19 and beprepared to accept second-hand smoke.

Mark MacDonald, a lawyer for the club, says that makes itan exception tothe ban.

"It's certainly our position this is not a public place," he said.

But Dr. Sheela Basrur, Ontario'schief medical officer of health,issued a statementFriday emphasizing that private clubs are not exempt fromthe ban on smoking indoors in public places.

A news release announcing the opening of the pub said it is run by volunteers and is therefore not a workplace either.But pub staff toldCBCthat they were, in fact, employees.

Kennedy said the establishment of the club is about more than just smoking. "This is about asking yourself a question: Are we or are we not a free country?"

Davis, 61, said he was the first person in Smiths Falls to join the club two weeks ago.

He said Do' Little's is one of the nicest pubs in town, and he has been a customer since it opened as a regular pub two years ago.

As someone whoenjoys a cigarette afterhis meals, he said hewas pleased when Smokers Choice took over and started allowing smoking last week.

"A lot of people were happy they didn't have to sit outside on the patio in the cold," he added.

Kennedy started Smokers Choice after the City of Ottawa enacted a city-wide smoking ban in 2001. He successfully challenged the bylaw in court the following year, butfailed to establisha club in Ottawasimilar to the one in Smiths Falls.

With files from the Canadian Press