Smoke clears at council

Prince Albert city council has instructed city administrators to send out a survey asking residents for their views on a public smoking ban. The ban would include e-cigarettes and marijuana, once it becomes legal to use. -- Stock photo from www.pixels.com

Smoking bylaw with nine-metre buffer passes third reading

As a parent, Tim Strom’s first concern is his two daughters.

As a teacher, his first concern is his students.

In both walks of life, he’s seen how smoking has a negative impact on Prince Albert youth, whether through the health effects from second-hand smoke, or from teenagers trying it out after years of watching adults they look up to. On Tuesday, Strom and his wife Carolyn went before city council to try and minimize that impact.

“It drives you nuts to walk outside a door anywhere and the first time you take a breath, you’re coughing,” he said. “My daughters, they walk out of a rink or something like that and the first thing they say is, ‘yuck, that’s gross.’ We shouldn’t have to say that about our city.”

The Stroms weren’t picking a random fight. Tuesday saw city council hold their final debate on a proposed Smoking in Public Places Bylaw, a project more than 12 months in the making.

The final draft followed extensive consultation through committee groups and public surveys, and bans all vaping and smoking (including cannabis) from restaurant patios, all areas of Kinsmen Water Park or within nine metres of an outdoor spectator area, public playground, skate park, spray park, paddling pool or outdoor sports facility. The bylaw also bans smoking or vaping within nine metres from the main entrance of a building.

The Stroms, along with other organizations like the Lung Association of Saskatchewan and the provincial chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society, where hoping for a wider ban that would have eliminated the nine-metre buffer zones in favour of full smoking bans in public areas. However, they left Tuesday’s meeting disappointed.

City council voted to implement the new bylaw as presented during Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s taken two years for this process,” said Carolyn, a health care professional. “It makes me worry that it’s going to take a really long time and there’s going to be five or 10 years before there’s a change. Every other municipality that’s tried this has passed it.”

Carolyn argued that smoke-free public areas would not only increase public health, but also decrease smoking rates among Prince Albert youth, who look to adults as role models.

The argument found some sympathy with city council, but not enough to sway the vote.

Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick was the most vocal proponent of the new bylaw, calling it a good start to curbing public smoking.

“I initially was in favour of a 100 per cent ban, but after going through this for a year with the Community Services Advisory Committee, I feel that this is a good compromise,” he said during the debate. “It isn’t going to put children at risk.”

Ogrodnick added that he didn’t think the city could enforce a complete smoking ban, and questioned whether you could truly eliminate the addiction simply by banning it. He also touted the public input that went into creating the bylaw.

Other council members, like Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp, worried that the city was pushing smokers out of public spaces altogether, while Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha said the bylaw was about making progress.

“The important thing for me was getting the first stage of this amendment done,” Botha said following the meeting. “Let’s see how it works out because, as many of my fellow councillors said during the meeting, if you ask somebody not to smoke near the bleachers or spectator areas, I think most people will be willing to comply and respect that.”

Couns. Blake Edwards and Ted Zurakowski were the lone opponents to the new bylaw, which will replace Bylaw 19 of 1993 and the No Smoking Policy of April 1, 2010.

Edwards, an initial supporter of the proposal in earlier debates, said he’d reconsidered his position and urged council members to send it back to administration for further study.

Zurakowski was the most vocal opponent by far. He questioned the ability to enforce the nine-metre buffer zone, and openly wondered if smokers should buy a tape measure along with their next package of cigarettes. Like the Stroms, he also worried about potential health hazards.

“There’s very little in this bylaw that makes me proud,” he said. “I think it overflows with compromise. I think there’s too much compromise there in every aspect of the bylaw. I believe it falls short of public expectation.”

According to Statistics Canada, only Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have higher smoking rates than Saskatchewan. In the former Prince Albert Parkland Health Region, roughly 27 per cent of residents ages 12 and older smoked. That’s seven percentage points higher than the provincial average of 20 per cent.

Thierman Financial