The Ontario government is strengthening its anti-smoking laws in the new year to make it illegal to light up in children's playgrounds, publicly owned sports fields, and restaurant and bar patios.

The ban will take effect starting Jan. 1, the government announced Friday.

On the same date, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act will be revised to bar the sale of tobacco on university and college campuses.


So many people have called Town Hall about the proposal, that the Board of Health had to move the public meeting to a larger venue. (File Photo)

Changes to the act will replace a patchwork of municipal regulations governing smoking on restaurant and bar patios and near playgrounds.

The Liberals also plan to reintroduce legislation that would extend a prohibition on sales of candy and fruit-flavoured tobacco products to youth to a total sales ban.

The Canadian Cancer Society calls the new regulations "courageous" and says they will "help denormalize tobacco use and provide greater protection from outdoor second-hand smoke for Ontarians."

Ontario's smoking rate was nearly 25 per cent in 2000, but last year the rate fell to 18.1 per cent, representing 332,361 fewer smokers.

Statistics show tobacco claims 13,000 lives in Ontario each year and costs the province's health care system an estimated $2.2-billion in direct costs and another $5.3 billion in indirect costs such as lost productivity.

British Columbia has the lowest smoking rate in the country, 14.5 per cent and some credit its tough anti-smoking laws.

In 2010, the city of Vancouver banned smoking at city parks and beaches.


With files From The Canadian Press