Smoking ban lacks teeth, but that’s not the point

Island Health hasn’t ticketed one person in 3 years who snubbed smoking bylaw

A clean air bylaw that would ban smoking in city parks and playgrounds and push smokers further away from storefronts is almost impossible to enforce, says the region’s top tobacco control officer.

In the past three years, there have been zero tickets handed out to smokers who light up too close to doorways, windows and air intakes, said Kim Bruce, regional manager of tobacco prevention and control at Island Health (formerly Vancouver Island Health Authority).

“We don’t have the ability to require people to produce identification, so it’s hard to write a ticket if you don’t know who the person is,” Bruce said.

The Capital Regional District pays Island Health to enforce current smoking bylaws, which last year involved about 2,000 building inspections mostly for mandatory signage.

Only 86 warnings were issued for non-compliance during that time, Bruce said.

Provincial legislation requires all businesses to ban smoking within three metres of their premises, but a proposed CRD bylaw – revised since it was defeated last June – would increase that threshold to seven metres.

Advocates of the expanded smoking ban argue enforcement isn’t the point.

Nancy Falconer, health promotion co-ordinator at the B.C. Cancer Society, said policy has been shown to directly impact behaviour.

“It’s the same principle as drinking in parks – for the most part, if people are aware the bylaw exists, they’ll abide by it,” Falconer said. “There is no safe exposure to second-hand smoke … exposure outdoors is a health hazard, particularly for those with chronic illnesses and children.”

Children and youth who are regularly exposed to smokers are also more likely to find the practice appealing, according to Island Health information presented to the CRD.

The argument is a compelling one for Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who chairs the committee responsible for approving the bylaw before the CRD board votes on it.

“There’s evidence that even though these things are difficult to enforce, by the fact they’re in place, they can make a significant difference in terms of health,” Desjardins said.

About 11 per cent of Capital Region residents smoke, compared to 15 per cent of British Columbians, Bruce said.

“I do think the public support is high in this area. If somebody does light up, it’s often not tolerated. Individuals around them or the restaurant employees would stop it,” she said.

The CRD board will likely consider the clean air bylaw at its next meeting Oct. 9. If passed, the bylaw will then move forward for public input.