Smoking under fire

The crusade against second-hand smoke could get a boost in Metro Vancouver, with park officials poised to consider a blanket ban on smoking – and possibly even campfires – in all regional parks.

The move, aimed at reducing second-hand-smoke exposure in Metro’s public spaces, is one of four options suggested by staff for public consultation as part of a draft regional no-smoking policy.

Gayle Martin, Langley City councillor and chair of the Metro Vancouver Parks Committee

Gayle Martin, Langley City councillor and chair of the Metro Vancouver Parks Committee

But some Metro park committee directors are already balking at the proposal, which calls for all Metro property – from parking lots and roadways to campsites and trails – to be off-limits to cigarettes to provide the “highest level of health benefit” for both smokers and non-smokers.

It could also potentially mean the end of fires at picnic sites and campgrounds such as Centennial Beach in Delta and Derby Reach campground in Langley. “You’re outdoors, for goodness’ sake,” said Gayle Martin, a Langley city councillor and park committee chairwoman who is also a smoker.

“What about the fumes from cars and the [stuff in the] air and the pollution? Where does it stop?”

But the staff report, which will go to Metro’s park committee Wednesday, suggests Metro could pursue a full-fledged smoking ban, or go with one of three less stringent options: Designating smoking zones on specific sections of beach or campsites; banning smoking at playgrounds and areas where children play; or maintaining the status quo.

Unlike municipalities such as Vancouver and Coquitlam, which have banned smoking in all parks, Metro Vancouver doesn’t restrict smoking in parks and ecological areas, except when the fire danger is high or extreme.

Gudrun Jensen, operations services division manager for regional parks, said staff are recommending Metro send all four options to public consultation before it develops its no-smoking policy for the region.

She noted the issue goes beyond second-hand smoke, to toxins from cigarette butts leaching into the ground, the risk to wildlife and the increased fire hazard.

She acknowledged that if Metro did pursue the full ban – or even some of the partial bans – it would likely consider banning fires at its two campsites, Derby Reach in Langley and Matsqui Trail, or possibly at beach picnic sites to “harmonize” the policy. That would have to be worked out in the discussions, she said.

“We’d need to look at all kinds of things,” Jensen said, adding that the biggest risk for second-hand smoke is when people are stationary, such as around a campfire.

“There’s a lot of emotions and a lot of opinions; we have to look at what’s going to serve users best. There’s a lot of pros and cons, say, for a full ban. It would be administratively simple and follow some of the other municipalities’ examples. On the other hand, do we need that level of intense regulation, that level of enforcement?

“It depends on what the majority of people value.”

The report arose after staff were asked in 2008 to deal with second-hand smoke and cigarette-butt litter at Wreck Beach. With Vancouver developing a smoking ban at its parks and beaches, and a “patchwork of policies” in other cities, Jensen said, staff decided to pursue a region-wide policy instead.

Coquitlam, Port Moody, Vancouver, West Vancouver and White Rock, for instance, ban smoking in all parks and on beaches, while North Vancouver District, Abbotsford and Richmond have banned smoking on playing fields and playgrounds.

Most smokers are considerate and don’t light up when other people are around, argued Martin, questioning how a ban would be enforced.

“The biggest problem I see is how do you patrol it?” she said. “You’re not going to hire a whole lot of people to catch smokers in the park… and [tobacco] is a legal substance.”

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said it’s a challenge to enforce any bylaw in a park because “we don’t want to have law-enforcement types wandering through our city parks.”

But, he said, he would lean toward a full smoking ban across Metro, noting a fire at Colony Farm a few years ago underscored the damage a discarded cigarette butt could do.

“You could lose an entire park and much more from careless smoking materials,” he said. “We have to do it sensitively, but at the same time we have to protect our park assets and the majority of residents who don’t smoke.”

Jensen noted it’s a balancing act to meet everyone’s needs. While smokers may lament not being able to smoke on the top of a mountain, others complain of lingering smoke on the trails.

About 8.6 million visitors a year already use the region’s outdoor facilities, which cover 13,592 hectares and are strung across the region from Pacific Spirit Park in Vancouver to Burns Bog in Delta, Derby Reach in Langley and Tynehead Regional Park in Surrey.

Scott McDonald, CEO of the B.C. Lung Association, lauded the proposal, saying 90 per cent of people in B.C. don’t smoke and their health shouldn’t be jeopardized by second-hand smoke or campfires.

“You’re trying to enjoy the great outdoors,” he said. “We are for clean air. It might be motivation for a lot of people to quit… You can’t say too much about smoking that would be good.”

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