Sunday, September 5, 2010

Smokers “personna non grata” in Vancouver

The city of Vancouver, British Columbia has effectively become a “no smoking” zone. As of September 1, 2010, smoking is prohibited in every park and on every beach in Vancouver. Anyone caught smoking in the city's 224 parks or 18 kilometres of beaches is subject to a minimum fine of $250, up to a maximum of $2,000.

The provincial Tobacco Control Act already bans smoking in indoor public places, work places, private places, near public and private doorways, open windows, and air intakes. Sounds like a fun place . . . as long as you're not a smoker. Of course, if you're a smoker who enjoys being treated like a social leper, you may feel right at home.

According to an article by Mark Hasiuk in the Vancouver Courier, “This new bylaw, which outlaws a legal activity in a city of 570,000, was crafted and enacted solely by the seven-member park board - an entity few Vancouverites know anything about.”

And, that's not as unbelievable as it sounds.

The Vancouver parks board is, in fact, the only one of its kind in Canada, with a measure of autonomy which exceeds any other in the country. It oversees the Vancouver park and recreation system which includes more than 224 parks (roughly 3,200 acres) featuring community centres, swimming pools, skating rinks, fitness centres, racquet courts, golf courses, pitch & putt courses, food concessions, marinas, miniature railway, children's farmyard, and street trees.

Hasiuk's article quotes comments from Aaron Jasper, a board commissioner, who claims the board heard from health care professionals that secondhand smoke, even on a breezy beach, represents a health hazard. Jasper also noted the environmental impact from discarded cigarette butts, and claimed that: "Forest fires are a grave concern." Huh? Forest fires in Vancouver. Can you spell bullshit? How about bafflegab?

On April 19, 2010, the Vancouver Parks Board passed a resolution to the effect: “That the [parks] Board instruct the General Manager to consult with the Director of Legal Services to seek amendments to the City of Vancouver Health Bylaw and Parks Control Bylaw to prohibit smoking in all parks and beaches”.

The motion was approved after the presentation of a staff report which stated: “With acceptance that no level of exposure to second-hand smoke can be considered safe, reducing such exposure remains a key component of health promotion by the World Health Organization, Health Canada, the Province of British Columbia, and VCH (Vancouver Coastal Health)”.

The report also pointed out the relatively low smoking prevalence rates in BC, noting : “The experience of many other jurisdictions is that smoking regulations are less challenging to implement and enforce in areas where non-smokers are represented by a large percentage of population, as in the Lower Mainland”.

In other words, smokers in BC represent such a small percentage of the population (less than 15%) that their concerns could be ignored with impunity and little political fallout. Or, as Mark Hasiuk noted in his article, “Persecuting smokers, today's unclean among us, requires no courage. They make easy targets.”

As usual when passing anti-smoker legislation of this kind, public consultation was kept to a minimum.

Park board staff collected public feedback through an online survey conducted in the fall of 2009. The objective of the survey was to gauge the level of support for a new policy on smoking in city parks. The survey focused on asking readers if they supported establishing "no-smoking" areas in beaches, playgrounds, playing fields, trails, and other “undesignated” park spaces.

A total of 608 responses were received in the city of roughly 570,000; roughly one tenth of 1% of the population. But that was more than enough to determine that 90% of the population favoured a comprehensive smoking ban. Uh-huh.

Of course, several anti-smoker delegations made presentations at the meeting; the Clean Air Coalition of BC, the Canadian Cancer Society (BC/Yukon), Vancouver Coastal Health, some outfit called Air Space Action on Smoking and Health, the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean Up and half a dozen individuals whose affiliation was not given.

In the face of this overwhelming support for a smoking ban, the resolution was approved unanimously by the seven members of the parks board.

And, on June 22, 2010, Vancouver city council passed the required amendments which authorized the Board of Parks and Recreation to enact by-laws to regulate smoking in parks “for the care, promotion and health of people in parks.”

Establishing no smoking areas in parks might be considered reasonable in some circumstances; around children's play areas, or petting zoos, for example. But, designating an entire park system a no smoking zone goes far beyond what is required to protect the public from the alleged, and grossly exaggerated, hazards of secondhand smoke.

There will be no designated smoking areas anywhere in the park system. Not a single acre of the 3,200 acres of parkland will be set aside for smokers. Not even a few measly square yards of the 15.5 million square yards in the park system will be made available to accommodate smokers. They're simply not welcome.

But then, as noted in the minutes of the board meeting where the by-law was approved: “Just in case there are caveats about this policy, it is well established that there is no safe level of tobacco smoke.”

A large portion of the park boards revenue (60 million dollars worth) apparently comes from municipal taxes. Some of those tax dollars come from smokers. But smokers are told they are unwelcome. And, no, tax rebates for smoking taxpayers were not mentioned in the anti-smoker legislation.

In reality, the by-law is designed to punish smokers, not protect public health. The intent is to demean and denigrate those who choose to engage in a perfectly legal activity; to turn them into social outcasts in the hope that a few of them will quit.

Said Aaron Jasper of the parks board: "Our job is to make sure that everyone can have enjoyment of our parks and public spaces." Uh-huh.

Everyone, apparently, but smokers.


Belinda said...

Blogged at and

This really takes the idea of no safe level to extremes. Any word how they intend policing this? One warden per acre, round the clock?

Anonymous said...

No doubt the U.K. will try to better this policy.
We will have to beat the Canadians with even more draconian measures.
Do they allow barbeques in open spaces over there ?