No smoking at Ottawa’s outdoor patios, parks, beaches, sports fields, public health recommends

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Ottawa Citizen

Written by Neco Cockburn in the Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa would be a healthier place if smoking is banned at outdoor bar and restaurant patios and on municipal properties such as parks, beaches, sports fields and areas outside city facilities, say public-health officials.

Vendor stands at the Parkdale and ByWard markets are also proposed to fall under new smoke-free bylaws that are to go before the city’s board of health on Feb. 6, with the goal of having any new rules in place by the time warm weather arrives and patios and markets open.

If approved by council, the regulations would create smoke-free spaces at four beaches, more than 1,000 city parks, more than 200 patios and areas outside about 300 city facilities, such as arenas and City Hall, said Dr. Isra Levy, the city’s medical officer of health. Events on municipal properties would also be smoke-free under the proposed changes.

“We’re doing this because second-hand smoke is a health hazard. We know that it can be as toxic outdoors as indoors,” Levy told reporters and councillors on Monday, adding that there is strong correlation between smoke-free regulations and reduced smoking rates and exposure to second-hand smoke, as well as increased attempts to quit smoking.

Public consultations found there is “significant support” for more smoke-free outdoor spaces, Levy said.

“Our proposals reflect what we believe to be the will of the people in this community,” he said.

If the changes go ahead, officials would begin cracking down on offenders starting July 2, after a warning phase beginning in April. Someone who violates the rules would risk a $305 fine, said Linda Anderson, the city’s chief of bylaw and regulatory services, adding the department expects a high level of voluntary compliance.

The proposed bylaws are part of a three-year renewed smoke-free strategy that would also increase services and programming to help people stop smoking, and provide public education campaigns and a community engagement plan.

Levy said the strategy “is designed to protect children and non-smokers from second-hand smoke, while reducing smoking rates in this community.”

The initiatives do not require additional funding for enforcement or enhanced services, and will be paid for through a reallocation of provincial “tobacco funding,” according to officials. Ottawa Public Health receives about $1.8 million a year for tobacco-related programming and services, most of which comes from the province.

Mike Ziola, chairman of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association’s Ottawa chapter, said the recommendations are an “evolution” of the city’s smoke-free bylaws that were approved 11 years ago, and were not surprising.

“It’s going to happen, so we need to work with it,” Ziola said.

The industry would prefer to see fines start in September, rather than July, in order to allow owners to become accustomed to the new rules, he said, and there are some concerns, especially in the ByWard Market, about “where we’re going to put people to go and smoke.”

Some businesses also raised fears during consultations about the possibility of an increased number of cigarette butts thrown on streets. Although other cities such as New York found that was not the case, there are plans for tobacco anti-litter campaigns, and existing butt receptacles are to be moved to areas that are convenient to smokers, according to a health unit report.

In August, Cumberland Councillor Stephen Blais proposed a smoking ban at public beaches and parks, and on outdoor patios and terraces before 8 p.m., out of concern for children’s health and safety.

Health officials were already working on the file, and the board of health in September directed staff to conduct a “comprehensive study” that included a look at the potential expansion of smoking bans.

Blais welcomed the proposed changes, telling reporters on Monday that it demonstrates that consultation “leads to a pragmatic approach that will ensure that Ottawa remains one of the safest and healthiest communities in which to live and raise your family.”

Officials looked at Blais’ idea of making patios smoke-free only after 8 p.m., but found it would make enforcement difficult, that health hazards would remain and that there was strong public support for a ban at all times.

Setting up designated smoking areas in parks and beaches — an idea floated at council — was also not recommended, because it would be difficult to enforce and children may still be exposed to second-hand smoke and would see people smoking.

Ottawa has two bylaws that prohibit smoking in indoor public places and enclosed workplaces. There was heated debate in 2001 when council banned smoking in bars, restaurants and gaming rooms, although the proposal last year for a review of a possible expansion of the bylaws appeared to be met by less hostility.

Only one councillor dissented in September when council approved a motion asking the board of health to review and report on the public-health value of an expanded ban. Orléans Councillor Bob Monette, a former smoker, said at the time that he quit smoking because of education, not legislation, and a new ban would be “unmanageable.”

On Monday, Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes, chair of the board of health, said that officials have come up with a “complete package” that would see Ottawa “be a healthier place.”

“Really, what we’re doing is catching up with our population. The people in Ottawa want to see less smoking,” she said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called the proposed changes “a balanced and sensible approach to protecting the public’s health,” and said he is very supportive.

“We know that second-hand smoke kills people, and if we’re able to minimize the public’s exposure to second-hand smoke, whether it’s in a playground or a patio, then that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

During the review, health officials held consultations with residents, businesses and other interested parties about smoke-free areas.

Levy said a lot of input was received from smokers, and officials found that “smokers, in general, support the direction that we’re moving in,” although in lower numbers than non-smokers.

Still, more than 50 per cent of smokers supported expanding smoke-free spaces, Levy said, anticipating that it reflects an understanding and respect for non-smokers, and recognition that the strategy would help people who want to stop smoking.

In the months before the board of health called for the study, health officials had been collecting opinions from the community in order to assess the level of public openness to updating smoke-free bylaws.

A preliminary analysis of opinions gathered in 2010 and 2011 from residents and people ranging from business and restaurant officials to staff members with festivals, hotels and markets found there was strong support for smoke-free spaces such as parks, playgrounds, patios, public sports fields, beaches, and doorways to public places and workplaces.

Officials considered other areas, such as hospitals, colleges and universities, constructions sites and hotels, but found that, depending on the site, there were concerns around public readiness for a ban, legal impediments, and the potential costs of enforcement and implementation, Levy said.

The public-health unit will still work to make “significant, measurable progress in all areas, not just the ones covered by regulation,” he said.

Municipal properties excluded from the proposed smoking ban include roads and sidewalks, property leased to a third party or managed by a local board, and long-term care facilities, which are regulated by provincial legislation.

The city says about 15 per cent of Ottawa residents smoke, and the smoking rate “has levelled off since 2005 after steep declines in earlier years.”

An anti-smoking group leader said the proposed bylaws are the “basis of a really important change.

“Basically, they’ll have dealt with the majority of the remaining problem for public exposure,” said Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

Public-health staff also looked into the regulation of shisha-pipe (hookah or water-pipe) establishments, where some of what’s being called a herbal product has been found to contain tobacco.

Staff recommended having Holmes, as the chair of the board of health, write letters calling for other levels of government to bring in tougher rules and legislation pertaining to tobacco water-pipe products and other substances that are smoked.

The letter to the province would ask for the Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care to consider amending the Smoke-Free Ontario Act and broadening the legislation in a way that would include the smoking of “water-pipe products.”

Anderson said bylaw staff will continue to monitor shisha-pipe establishments. (In 2011, inspection blitzes of 20 known water-pipe establishments in Ottawa resulted in provincial offence notices being issued to all but one of them, for offences such as selling tobacco without a required licence.)

Following consideration by the board of health, the recommended bylaws are to go to council’s community and protective services committee on Feb. 15, and council on Feb. 22.