Guess how many individuals or businesses have been fined in recent years for violating rules around smoking less than three metres from an enclosed space in Greater Victoria?
On the surface that tells us the Capital Regional District has done a good job at changing people’s behaviour around smoking in public places.
The CRD has clearly taken an educational approach to the issue rather than one that is punitive. Some might argue that aggressive enforcement, with frequent fines for violators, is the best way to change behaviour on this issue. But the numbers would indicate the CRD’s experience of using a kinder, gentler approach has proven effective.
Besides the absence of fines against smokers or establishments – bylaw enforcement officers at the Vancouver Island Health Authority, actually have very limited authority to ticket individuals – the smoking rate in Greater Victoria has been reduced to 11 per cent, compared to 15 per cent provincially.
That said, extending the three-metre ban to seven metres, as the CRD is considering, seems an overreach. The accompanying proposal to create no-smoking zones in parks and playgrounds makes sense, but a seven-metre rule would be like pouring salt in a wound already destined to be lethal.
We shouldn’t be surprised at this gradual expansion of the space in which people can be free from breathing secondhand smoke. Health authorities and other regulatory bodies have made it their goal to squeeze smokers into as small an area as possible and reduce their numbers to limit their impact on public health.
The new distance rule, if passed by the CRD board, will further isolate smokers, to the point where only roadways and parking lots in downtown Victoria, for example, will be “legal” areas to light up.
Unless the CRD is prepared to ban smoking outright – an unlikely notion now, but one many would support – it should look to other ways of educating the public about the hazards of lighting up rather than creating unenforceable rules that further pad the bureaucracy.