A strong push by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) to institute a widespread smoking ban in the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) fell flat last week when SCRD staff said the board only had authority to regulate smoking on its own property.
Speaking before the corporate and community services committee on May 22, medical health officer Dr. Paul Martiquet told directors, “You have the majority of parks, beaches and trails [on the Sunshine Coast], and we’re here to reinforce the wishes of your constituents.”
He added that enforcement of a bylaw would not be an issue for regional district staff because the smoke bans would be “basically self-enforcing or self-policing,” and VCH could provide tobacco enforcement officers if needed, adding that “down the street there’s three of them.”
Caitlin Etherington, VCH tobacco reduction coordinator for the Coast, cited a voluntary survey of 510 people compiled last year that “found overwhelming support for enhanced smoking bylaws.”
The survey found 83 per cent of respondents supported increasing the buffer for doorways from three to six metres, 69 per cent supported a ban on hospitality patios, and about 60 per cent were in favour of a ban for trails, parks and beaches.
Etherington said there was “a wave of smoking bylaws happening globally,” pointing to Mexican beaches, Whistler and Paris, and noting that about one-third of B.C. communities have adopted enhanced smoking bylaws beyond the provincially imposed three-metre buffer from doors.
“We feel very much that the time is now for smoking bylaws on the Coast,” she said.
Stacey Berisavac of the Canadian Cancer Society said bylaws would protect the community from secondhand smoke, support ex-smokers, motivate smokers to quit or cut back, and decrease negative role modeling for children, as they would be “less likely to view it as normal behaviour.”
The delegation asked for the SCRD to assign a point person to work with VCH on developing a “leading edge” bylaw that would set a 7.5-metre buffer from doors and ban smoking on all patios, parks, beaches and trails, transit stops and “public places where people gather.”
The ban would include “weeds and other substances,” water hookahs and pipes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.
After the presentation, however, corporate officer Angie Legault noted that regional districts, with the exception of the Capital Regional District, do not have the authority to regulate smoking, except on their own properties.
A bylaw could be drafted, she added, but the SCRD would have to make a case for the province to approve it.
When VCH delegates argued that regional districts had, in fact, passed smoking bylaws, Legault and directors pointed out that the local governments mentioned were actually districts, not regional districts.
Some directors also criticized the VCH survey used to justify the call for a smoking bylaw.
Speaking as a “failed non-smoker” who quit for 18 years, West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull said she took the VCH survey last year and “I felt the questions were designed to lead in a certain direction.”
Turnbull also noted that VCH’s summary of the survey admitted that Gibsons residents, non-smokers and people over 40 were over-represented in the results.
Area A director Frank Mauro told the group that voluntary surveys “tend to have a skew.”
But it wasn’t all bad news for the delegation.
Committee chair Donna Shugar said she liked the idea of having smoke-free events in SCRD parks when people are gathered in close proximity and a motion was passed to have staff report back on that possibility.
At the suggestion of District of Sechelt director Darnelda Siegers, the staff report will spell out exactly where the SCRD can and cannot regulate smoking.
The VCH delegation has also appeared at District of Sechelt council with the same request and was on the agenda to appear at Gibsons council on May 20, but cancelled because members were unable to attend. Another date is being scheduled.
© Coast Reporter