TORONTO - Ontario drivers caught lighting up in a car with children in the backseat will soon face a fine of up to $250 once a widely supported government-backed ban on the practice is passed.
Ontario has already banned smoking in workplaces and public areas, such as bars and restaurants. But under the long-awaited legislation being introduced Wednesday, Ontario will join other provinces by banning smoking in cars where children under the age of 16 are present - a practice critics liken to child abuse.
Adults who don't butt out in a car with kids would be fined no more than $250, instead of between $200 to $1,000 as originally proposed by Liberal backbencher David Orazietti who lobbied hard for the ban.
Premier Dalton McGuinty once dismissed a province-wide ban as a slippery slope which infringed too much on people's rights, but said Wednesday that the ban is about protecting children from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
"We've got to take a side," he said. "And we're taking the side here of children who are defenceless and who count on us to make responsible decisions that serve their health interests."
In March, McGuinty announced he'd changed his mind about the ban, which Orazietti introduced last year as a private member's bill. Nova Scotia already bans the practice and British Columbia's Liberal government introduced a ban in its legislature earlier this week.
Police will be expected to enforce the ban once it takes effect, but the province is counting on a "high percentage of voluntary compliance," said Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best.
"The police will be out there doing their usual business and I'm certain that when they see the violation, then they will issue a ticket as required," she said.
The ban won't make the job more onerous for police officers patrolling the province's highways, who are already inspect things like child car seats, said OPP Const. David Woodford.
"If we happen to see someone in their car smoking and there's kids in the backseat, it's quite obvious," he said.
"We're not going to be out there just looking for that. We do all enforcement any time. But it wouldn't be hard to detect someone smoking in a car while there's kids in the car."
But Woodford said he doesn't see many people smoking in cars carrying children, unlike Best, who said she sees it "all the time."
Opposition leaders threw their support behind the legislation, but say more must be done to educate people about the dangers of exposing kids to high concentrations of second-hand smoke.
The law won't have much of an effect if people aren't made aware of what smoking does to their children's health, said Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory.
"We frankly have better things for the police and other people like that to be doing with their time," he said. "I think the way we're going to get change in behaviour here is by educating and informing and persuading people."
Best said the province will "probably spend some money" on educating the public, but will wait for the bill to be passed before moving ahead with any plans.
Two weeks ago, the Ontario Medical Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation rolled out a series of radio and print ads encouraging parents to butt out while driving with kids.
Doctors say kids are exposed to up to 23 times the toxins when they're in enclosed spaces like a car, which can worsen asthma and lead to other respiratory illnesses.