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Growing municipal support for smoke-free places highlights inequity in provincial tobacco legislation

Monday, January 23, 2017

A new report from the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact highlights the positive impact of municipal outdoor smoke–free bylaws in BC. Yet, nearly 1 million British Columbians are still at risk of tobacco exposure and role modelling.

While dozens of communities across the province have enacted regulations to prohibit smoking in outdoor public places, the regulations are not consistent. Some bylaws protect more areas than others, and many municipalities – often in remote and rural areas – do not have any enhanced outdoor tobacco regulations to protect their residents from the known physical and social harms of smoking.

“There is no doubt we have made progress,” explains Jenny Byford, Advocacy Lead, Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon. “A decade ago, only six municipalities offered outdoor tobacco bylaws; today, there are 71. But we still have nearly a million vulnerable British Columbians and that’s not acceptable. British Columbians deserve provincial legislation that protects their right to clean air regardless of where they live.”  

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in BC and is associated with more than 6,000 deaths annually in the province. A growing number of Canadian provinces and territories have expanded smoking and vaping restrictions to cover outdoor public places such as bar and restaurant patios, playgrounds, sporting areas and beaches. This type of legislation serves three main purposes: it helps people who want to quit smoking by eliminating triggers; it reduces public exposure to second hand smoke; and, it reduces the likelihood that children will start smoking or vaping, as they won’t  see it regularly in their communities.

There is growing appetite for smoke-free outdoor public places. In 2012, the Union of BC Municipalities passed a resolution in support of comprehensive provincial outdoor tobacco legislation. In 2013, an Angus Reid poll conducted on behalf of the Society showed 66 per cent of British Columbians over the age of 18 support smoke-free outdoor restaurant and bar patios, 91 per cent support a ban in children’s playgrounds and 66 per cent support a ban in all parks and beaches.

“We have been championing and celebrating alongside municipalities, post-secondary campuses and mountain resorts, that have lead the way with smoke-free regulations,” says Byford. “It’s time to make smoke and vape-free outdoor public places a priority across the province.”

In 2016, the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact conducted a survey of 24 BC municipalities about their experiences implementing smoke-free bylaws. A total of 88 per cent of the municipalities (21 of the 24) reported the bylaw had a positive impact in their communities. Many municipalities indicated support for provincial legislation and frustration the provincial government has not taken a lead role on this issue. One respondent stated, “[UBCM B92] is not something municipalities should have to deal with individually; the uncertainty is unfair to smokers if the rules are different from community to community. It's a public health issue that needs a higher sphere of influence.”

Read original Canadian Cancer Society press release.