March 12, 2014

Town will be asked to restrict outdoor smoking

As published in The Erin Advocate

Smoking will still be a legal activity, but finding a legal place to do it outdoors will become a little harder if Erin Council agrees with a new push from the Board of Health.

Any local change is likely to affect Town properties such as parks and sports fields, but a ban could be extended to restaurant patios. That would be an unpleasant change for some people, but it is part of a relentless push for better health protection, which makes good sense.

Restaurants would face some disruption, but it seems likely that they would keep most of their existing customers, while attracting new ones who currently avoid patios where smoking is allowed.

Rita Sethi, WDGPH Director of Community Health and Wellness, said 93 Ontario municipalities have passed bylaws to ban smoking in various outdoor spaces, and she plans to visit Erin Town Council soon, urging them to enact their own.
“We’re doing a road show to councils,” she said. 

A bill currently under consideration in the Ontario legislature would prohibit smoking on playgrounds, sports fields and patios. It is not certain to become law, however, and municipalities are free to enact their own bans.

“The more restrictive law will apply,” said Sethi. Most people want some sort of restrictions on outdoor smoking, she said, not only to guard against the dangers of second-hand smoke, but for better role-modelling, reduction of litter and benefit to the environment.

Orangeville, for example, passed a bylaw in 2012 with a maximum fine of $5,000 for smoking on Town property, including parking lots, recreation centres, parks, skateboard-BMX facilities, town offices, police and fire stations, soccer fields, baseball diamonds and hiking trails. Sidewalk smoking is still allowed.

Local bans do not usually bring significant enforcement costs. They are complaint-based, but are intended to be “self-enforcing”, with a combination of social pressure and signs doing most of the work.

Last summer, the health unit administered a survey of about 2,000 area residents, with 94% agreeing that exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS) can cause serious health problems, and 76% believing that a ban on smoking in outdoor spaces could help protect people from second-hand smoke.

A report on the survey to the Board of Health says SHS can lead to cancer, heart disease and premature death.

“Across Ontario, many local governments are taking action to protect residents from SHS in outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, sports fields, municipal property and patios,” said the executive summary. One of the goals is to “increase motivation” for smokers to quit or cut back.

“Based on the survey findings, a complete smoking ban in outdoor spaces in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph will be recommended to local councils.”

In the survey, support was highest (91%) for a smoking ban at outdoor pools and splash pads. It was 90% for playgrounds, 84% for doorways to public places and workplaces, 75% for restaurant patios, 68% for parks, 67% for outdoor special events and 63% for bar patios.

About 20% of people in the health district are smokers. In the survey, only 41% of smokers supported any of the possible bans.