Up in smoke: councillor rues missed opportunity with Smoking Bylaw

The City of Prince Albert has updated its Smoking in Public Places Bylaw, but some city councilors are already calling the decision a missed opportunity.

City council voted by a 6-3 margin on Monday to restrict residents from smoking on restaurant and bar patios or within nine metres of a city facility entrance. The new restrictions apply to cigarettes, cigars, vaping, shisha and cannabis.

The bylaw received positive reviews from council, and mostly positive reviews from the Canadian Cancer Society and The Lung Association of Saskatchewan . However, for some, the new laws don’t go far enough.

“I think it’s just a bit of a paper tiger,” said Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski, the bylaw’s most vocal critic and one of the three council members to vote against it. “I think we’ve lost a lot of opportunity to make a meaningful change.”

Zurakowski said he wants a ban on smoking at city parks or outside sports facilities due to the large youth presence. He was particularly critical of the nine metre buffer zone, which he called a “false number” because it gives the illusion that council is dealing with the problem.

He said people are tired of “running the gauntlet” through smokers just to get inside city facilities, and urged council to reconsider. When the vote passed, he worried it would be years before council has a chance to change it.

“Democracies work very slowly,” Zurakowski said. “Ever since we passed this smoking bylaw six years ago, it was my hope that we would revisit it shortly, and six years later equals shortly…. It’s taken us a number of years to get this far, and to start from ground zero again, when other municipalities and other communities are going further in regards to their smoking bylaws, I think is a bit of a miss.”

However, not all councillors shared those opinions. Ward 5 Coun. Blake Edwards, one of two councillors to sit on the Community Services Advisory Committee that wrote the updated bylaw, the goal was compromise.

Edwards said he also noticed many of the issues Zurakowski brought up, but added that the update represented a positive step forward for the city. He said it allowed city council to come back at a later date and add further restrictions as needed.

Mayor Greg Dionne also said the bylaw marked a positive step on a contentious issue, even though he had some concerns of his own in council.

“I don’t think anyone will ever be happy,” he said afterwards. “I’ve been on council for 15 years and we’ve been tackling it every year, and we’re continue to tackle it. It’s a thing where I don’t think either side will be happy.”

Dionne said he’s not confident the nine-metre buffer zone will completely work, a concern that was raised by representatives from the Canadian Cancer Society and The Lung Association of Saskatchewan in a brief presentation prior to Monday’s debate.

He’s also skeptical about whether bylaw officers can easily enforce the buffer zone. Still, he’s pleased with the steps taken.

“Even if you get compliance at 90 per cent, that’s a big step forward,” Dionne said. “Then the ones who are breaking the law will be more noticeable.”

Provincial legislation requires a three metre minimum buffer that keeps smokers from smoking in front of entrances to city facilities.