Expanded prohibitions regarding electronic cigarettes and
medical cannabis in the workplace will require action from Ontario
employers as of July 1.
The updated Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017, repeals the existing
Electronic Cigarettes Act, 2015, and Smoke-Free Ontario Act and replaces
them with a single legislative framework to regulate the sale, supply,
use, display and promotion of tobacco and vapour products, as well as
the smoking and vaping of medical cannabis.
Enacted in December as part of omnibus Bill 174, Cannabis,
Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, 2017, the
refreshed legislation serves as the provincial framework anticipating
the federal government’s ruling on recreational cannabis later this
year, according to Sophie Arseneault, employment lawyer at Fasken in
The provincial updates will affect employers in several ways, she said.
“Any employer who has a smoke-free or scent-free policy, any
policies that may address an environment where you address cigarette
use, or even alcohol and drug use, it would be a good time to look at
this before July 1.”
More than tobacco
When the updated act takes effect in Ontario, smoking tobacco,
medical cannabis or using electronic cigarettes will be prohibited in
several locations, such as enclosed public places, workplaces or any
designated areas over which an employer exercises control, according to
Meanwhile, the use of recreational cannabis will be confined to private premises within Ontario.
Employers will be required to comply with the legislation by
posting signage respecting the prohibitions, and removing any
individuals who refuse to comply with the legislation.
The act also provides protection for home health-care workers
from second-hand smoke or vapour — they will have the right to leave
their employer’s premise, unless doing so would present immediate
serious danger to the health of any person, even if the patient is
legally entitled to use the substances, said Arseneault.
Further changes will ensure anyone operating a motor vehicle is
prohibited from smoking medical cannabis, while electronic cigarettes
will not be allowed to be consumed in a vehicle where a passenger
younger than 16 years old is present.
Essentially, the rules are being updated to include medical
cannabis and electronic cigarettes, said Maureen Quinlan, employment
lawyer at Hicks Morley in Toronto.
“Now, officially, we will be prevented from using electronic cigarettes or vaping in the workplace in enclosed spaces.”
While employer and proprietor obligations under the Smoke-Free
Ontario Act essentially remain the same, updates will be necessary to
ensure prohibitions now include electronic cigarettes and medical
Mandatory signage making employees and patrons aware of the
prohibitions is a key element of the updated legislation, said Quinlan.
“It’s very important to have the new signs posted in the
workplace on July 1 and following, because there are penalties under the
act if you don’t meet those signage requirements.”
The signs must be posted in a conspicuous manner, unobstructed
from view at each entrance and exit of the enclosed workplace —
including washrooms — and in sufficient numbers to ensure employees and
patrons are aware that smoking and the use of electronic cigarettes is
prohibited, she said.
Signs must be a specific size and while examples of the updated
signs are not yet available on the government’s website, they are
expected to be posted later in June.
“This not a new requirement,” said Quinlan. “Signs were
required to be placed in the same locations under the earlier act… The
new legislation requires employers to update their signs within the
Organizations should follow this ruling to the letter in order
to avoid significant penalization, she said, as posted monetary fines
range from $250 to $600,000.
Retaliation against an employee seeking enforcement of the act is also prohibited.
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Advice for HR
Human resources practitioners should watch closely for the government’s publication of signage, she said.
“As soon as it’s available, make arrangements to obtain copies
such that you can post it in every location in your workplace that’s
required, and ensure that everyone is aware of these new obligations —
that they cover tobacco in its traditional form, medicinal cannabis, and
then any kind of electronic cigarette or vaping, with further
prescribed methods of use to be determined later.”
Employers should also expand relevant HR policy to note that
smoking both electronic cigarettes and medical cannabis is not permitted
within enclosed workplaces. They must also ensure no ashtrays or
similar equipment remain in the enclosed workplaces, said Quinlan.
However, employers would be wise to go above and beyond the
legislative requirements, according to Robert Schwartz, executive
director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit in Toronto, a resource
centre of the Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy.
The cost of having employees who smoke is a major one for employers when it comes to sick leave and lost productivity, he said.
“Smokers miss a lot more days of work than do no-smokers. Smokers are (also) less productive because they take smoke breaks.”
Ensuring workplaces are smoke-free and restricting smoking in
outdoor workplaces are important steps employers can take to address
this issue, according to Schwartz.
“Employers have the perfect legal right to restrict smoking wherever they want,” he said.
“It’s in every employer’s interest to prevent their employees
from starting to smoke and to help those who are smoking quit because
there’s a net economic benefit to the employer from doing that.”
The province recently ran a successful pilot project,
partnering with employers to offer workplace cessation options, said
Seventy per cent of active smokers want to quit, and “being
able to do that in a group situation with support — I think it has
1 in 5 Ontarians smoke
Smoking continues to have an unhealthy effect on workers,
according to Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Ontario Tobacco
Research Unit (OTRU) in Toronto.
In the 1960s, more than 40 per cent of Ontarians actively
smoked tobacco, while today’s figure is down to about 16.4 per cent, he
As of 2015, 20 per cent of Ontarians 12 years or older had used
a wider variety of tobacco products within the last month, including
cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco, according to an OTRU
report released in March — a “shocking” figure, said Schwartz.
“In the past five years, there’s been very little progress,” he
said. “We’ve known since the 1960s that tobacco kills and it makes a
lot of people sick… The fact that, 50 years later, we’re still in a
situation where a fifth of the population is using tobacco? It’s
“People are aware. People know the health effects, and they still smoke,” said Schwartz.
About 150,000 Canadians take up the habit every year,
“Those are young people. People don’t start to smoke after the age of 21, 22 — very few.”
Both Ontario and Canada have adopted smoking reduction
strategies aimed at having less than five per cent of citizens using
tobacco by 2035, according to Schwartz, and Ontario hopes to reduce its
rate to 10 per cent by 2023.
“To get there, we actually need drastic and bold steps.”