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Officials huff and puff over Penn's cigarette


Public health officials are formally investigating actor Sean Penn's apparent violation of the province's new anti-smoking law at a Toronto film festival press conference.

Ontario Health Promotion Minister Jim Watson said the Smoke-Free Ontario Act applies to Penn as it would to any tavern patron who lights up in an enclosed public space.

"No one is above the law," Watson said yesterday.

Penn was photographed with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he answered reporters' questions at an indoor news conference at the Sutton Place Hotel on Sunday.

Provincial law that came into effect this spring bans smoking in enclosed work and public places to protect people from secondhand smoke.

Ontario chief medical officer of health Sheela Basrur said officials will first look to the proprietor to ensure that everyone was notified about the law.

An individual who ignored warnings could be subject to a $105 fine.

Denny Alexander of the Toronto International Film Festival issued a statement yesterday. "The festival and our hotel partners make every effort possible to ensure that our guests are aware of and respect Ontario's Smoke-Free Act," he said. "We apologize that our moderator did not address the issue during the press conference."

Christopher Ashby, speaking for the Sutton Place Hotel, said appropriate signage alerting guests to the smoking law is posted in the hotel.

Watson said he expects public health units to enforce the law.

"Sean Penn's a great actor, but, quite frankly, if he was smoking in breach of the law and if someone was notified from the public health unit in Toronto, he could be charged and he should be charged," the minister said.

David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, said an official investigation began yesterday into the incident. "We take secondhand smoke very seriously in Ontario," he said.

Michael Perley of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco said high-profile celebrities can have a substantial influence on young people and shouldn't be allowed to get away with breaking the law.


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