WITH new anti-tobacco legislation set to kick in, Manitoba takes another step closer to butting out.
That's the hope for those wishing the smoke would clear.
The province's Non-Smokers Health Protection Amendment Act prohibits the sale of tobacco or tobacco-related products (such as rolling papers, cigarette tubes, cigarette filters, cigarette makers or pipes) in a health-care facility or a pharmacy. Those new restrictions come into effect today, the World Health Organization's World No Tobacco Day.
Big-box stores and large grocery chains that house pharmacies are not exempt from the legislation, meaning it will be that less convenient for smokers to feed tobacco addictions through a routine stop for groceries.
"It's something we wanted to see not only with regards to pharmacies but also the total number of points of access to tobacco," said Murray Gibson, executive director of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance (MANTRA), an organization dedicated to reducing tobacco use in the province.
But Gibson warns of a potential loophole in the coming pharmacy ban. He points out the larger chain stores are still able to sell tobacco products provided they have a pharmacy that's separated from the remainder of the store, so customers cannot directly access the area where tobacco is being sold.
Despite the potential smokescreen, Gibson still labels the legislation a "good start" and says the province is continuing its positive steps toward tougher tobacco retail rules.
According to MANTRA, Manitoba has approximately 1,800 outlets licensed to sell tobacco products.
Any decrease in access is certainly good news for Steve Rayner. The 38-year-old Winnipeg resident has been trying to quit for 10 months, with limited success. He goes without a drag for a week, only to find a cigarette in his mouth for a couple of days after that, and then starts the cycle again. Having fewer options to buy cigarettes won't get him to stop completely, he notes, but it will help change a pattern of purchasing.
"The inconvenience probably means I'll go longer without one," Rayner said. "I'm not one to go out of my way to buy cigarettes."
Rayner figures the legislation, coupled with the increasing price point of cigarettes, will help him quit, but he doesn't foresee it being the be-all-end-all in his quest.
"Not being able to smoke inside, not being able to smoke in parks or at the beach, now limiting where people can buy them -- every little inconvenience helps," he said.
Manitoba became the first province to introduce an indoor smoking ban in 2004 and is scheduled to ban smoking at all public beaches and children's playgrounds located in provincial parks next summer.
The new legislation also pulls the plug on cigarette vending machines. Today is the last day tobacco products can be sold by simply dropping loonies and toonies into a machine.
The arrival of the pharmacy ban comes after the province raised the tobacco tax four cents to 29 cents per cigarette (a $1 increase per pack of 25) last month. Manitoba now boasts the highest price for a carton of 200 smokes in Canada ($128).
The Manitoba Lung Association says the smoking rate in the province is at 18 per cent and has been dropping annually.
"People want to quit, we know that, and it's encouraging," Gibson added. "All of these measures combined are giving people more reason to think about doing that now."