As restrictive tobacco bylaws continue to expand across North American cities, smokers are left with shrinking public space in which to enjoy a legal activity.
The Capital Regional District latest clean air bylaw, if approved by the board today, would ban smoking in parks, public squares and playgrounds.
Large swathes of downtown Victoria would also be smoke free if the minimum smoking distance from buildings is increased from three to seven metres.
And while we agree with the intent of the bylaw – to protect the health of non-smokers in public places – we also question whether government has the right to tell us not do something that is perfectly legal.
The latest CRD bylaw doesn’t seem to strike the right balance between personal freedom and public health concerns.
When we hear plans, for example, to outlaw smoking in vast public places like parks and town squares, the law becomes a little too broad for our liking.
Policy makers should be forced to accommodate smokers in some way, perhaps by setting up designated smoking areas.
Earlier, city councillors mulled the idea of a ‘park’ for smokers, but that appears to have gone up in smoke.
Health officials have also said that tobacco restrictions in public places can lead to “significant social modelling” and that recent brain studies show the thought process of children and youth can be affected through exposure to smokers.
Those issues may not be the primary focus of the Clean Air Bylaw, but their inclusion is still too broad a policy approach. As the B.C. Civil Liberties Association pointed out, in a free and democratic society, we do not demand citizens be role models for other people’s children.
The clean-air bylaw has some laudable goals, but one must question whether those goals are fair and reasonable.
Just to make smokers pariahs is a tad Orwellian, especially when smoking remains a legal activity.