Bracebridge council wants to have a discussion with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit over why a designated smoking zone for students at a local high school was shut down. Coun. Rick Maloney extended the open invitation to the health unit during a special general committee meeting on Wednesday, October 10. The health unit had decided in mid-September that a designated smoking zone for students at the rear of Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School needed to be closed, saying it violates the Smoke-Free Ontario and the Ontario Education Act. The health unit said charges could be laid if the school board and the town continued to operate the smoking zone. Maloney, however, questioned why the health unit hasn’t offered any detailed explanation for their decision.
“Consequently it was a “cease and desist” type of situation with very little rationale, and very little explanation on the part of the health unit,” he said. “I was taken aback on their decision, and with the lack of rationale.” The smoking zone was approved by council at the request of the school board last year. Town staff believed it was a practical approach to dealing with smokers, who had to move off school grounds to smoke where they couldn’t be monitored by school staff. It was reported that students would sometimes be late for class while returning from a smoke break, or sometimes not at all. Town staff also heard complaints that smokers would litter the ground at the neighboring Sportsplex with cigarette butts, and created traffic hazards when they spilled out onto the roadway. During the short time the smoking zone was in use, town staff reported that the idea was working well. The school, in the meantime, had said it would continue running programs designed to encourage students to kick the habit altogether.
But since the smoking zone was shut down, Maloney said the same issues have since resurfaced. “Again the student smoking problem has caused a significant issue to not just the persons in the immediate neighbourhood but also persons accessing the Sportsplex,” he said. Coun. Liam Cragg also echoed Maloney’s hopes that council will be able to work with the health unit to find out what can and cannot be done to address the smoking issue. “I think this is an elegant way to approach the health unit and ask them ‘please explain what the rationale is,’” said Cragg. Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit tobacco program supervisor John Niddery said the group has received an invitation to speak with council at a future date, but reiterated the fact that provincial laws are clear on policies for smoking on school property.
“The Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibits smoking on school property and the school board is charged with making sure that happens,” he said. “The municipal government is really sort of a side player in this.”