Protecting Backwall Tobacco

Ontario c-store owners ask government to protect cigarette sales area, livelihoods

TORONTO -- Independent, family-owned convenience stores in Ontario have asked the government of Premier Dalton McGuinty to protect the safety and security of their families and their employees as well as their ability to make a living by not amending Bill 164, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, to ban the backwall sales area for tobacco products.

Member of the Provincial Parliament Phil McNeely has brought forward an amendment to Bill 164 to ban so-called power walls one year from now, and eliminate all retail display of tobacco products in 2008.

According to a Canada News Wire report, McNeely said, Our Committee has spent the past two weeks listening to Ontarians, and we've received a loud and clear message to ban power' walls [back walls] and eliminate retail displays of tobacco. I'm extremely proud of Bill 164 as it currently stands, but the way the bill proposed to deal with retail displays, in my opinion, left too much uncertainty. My amendment will address that.

McNeely's amendment would make the following changes:All power walls (colored-panels, backlit displays) used on in-store tobacco displays to promote and advertise cigarettes would be banned as of May 31, 2006, when other provisions of the bill take effect. All in-store displays of tobacco products will become illegal two years later, on May 31, 2008.

These changes would fulfill the government's platform commitment to ban all behind-the-counter retail displays of tobacco products. The Smoke-Free Ontario Act already fulfills other key commitments including a ban on countertop displays of cigarettes and a complete smoking ban in all workplaces and enclosed public spaces.

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OSCA), representing more than 7,000 c-store owners throughout Ontario, is very concerned that over the past two weeks the voice of thousands of family run and owned c-stores has not been heard in this debate.

When Minister Smitherman introduced Bill 164, it was clear that he recognized the need for convenience stores to be able to access tobacco products in a safe manner, said Dave Bryans, executive director of the OCSA. We are reaching out today with the hope that he will not sway from that commitment because of sensationalist rhetoric by highly paid lobbyists.

Of particular concern to the OCSA's members is the security risks created by banning this sales area. If forced to eliminate these areas immediately, c-stores across the province will face much greater costs and will be put in dangerous positions.

Unfortunately, working in a convenience store is often dangerous, said Abdul Jiwani, a Toronto-area c-store owner. Thieves are looking for the opportunity when you are distracted to jump the counter and stick a gun in your back.

The OCSA also questions the link to youth smoking and displays. This bill is about keeping cigarettes away from youth. I am a father and employer of many young people. Not one of my children smokes, and they have worked in my stores for years, said Joe Rabba, owner of Rabba Fine Foods. I was forced out of my country 30 years ago by a ruthless dictator. I came to this country to make a new life for myself and my family. Please do not force me out of my business.

If the government caves in to the pressure of lobbyists for anti-smoking groups and bans my sales area, it will be very, very harmful to my business and my family's safety, said Jong Huh, the President of the Korean Businessman's Association and a c-store owner. Today, I am begging the government to not allow those that do not know or care about our business determine the outcome of this issue.

To address some of these concerns, the McNeely amendment also provides Ontario's c-stores with a three-year transition period. We need to strike a balance between our anti-tobacco efforts and ensuring the viability of Ontario's convenience store sector. The men and women who work in our convenience stores deserve time to adapt to these changes, and I believe we should work with them and help them with this transition, said McNeely.

Bill 164 is part of the provincial government's comprehensive anti-tobacco strategy. Other elements of the strategy include a peer-to-peer anti-smoking campaign targeted at youth, help for smokers who want to quit, tax increases to bring Ontario cigarette prices closer to the national average, and a transition fund to help tobacco farmers.

McNeely's amendments will be voted on by the Legislative Committee studying Bill 164 later this week, and a final bill is expected to come before the Legislature for third reading some time later this spring.

Click here for details on the legislation, OCSA's remarks to the committee hearings on Bill 164 and other information.

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