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Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:00

City weighs possible outdoor smoking ban

By Collin Gallant,

MEDICINE HAT – The time is right for two City boards to examine a ban on smoking in city-run playgrounds, parks and outdoor events, says the chair of Medicine Hat's Public Services Committee.

Ald. Graham Kelly backed the proposal brought forward by the Youth Advisory Board saying that the Urban Environment Recreation Advisory Board should collaborate on a policy that could eventually ban lighting up in areas frequented by young people.

"It's an idea that's time has come," said Kelly. "What would be really surprising and out of step with the public's mood would be taking a step back on the issue. "At major football stadiums like McMahon Stadium (in Calgary) smoking is not allowed and people accept it because they know it's the right thing to do."

Those who presented at the Tuesday's meeting said a ban would reduce litter, create a healthier environment for children and also help reverse the message that it's 'normal' for people to smoke while enjoying leisure time.

"If you see everybody outside smoking then (young people) think it's normal," said Youth Advisory Board member Rebecca McCubbin. "We want to end that... and stop them from getting that idea that smoking is normal in their head."

The two boards will now study the issue, and any resulting bylaw would likely not appear before council until later in the year.

The idea comes on the heels of a last year's council decision to push ahead with legislation banning smoking in vehicles when young people are present. The province has since planned to make the ban province wide. That's similar to what happened after the City banned smoking in bars and restaurants before the Alberta government followed suit.

But, whereas smoking in cars is a matter under the Alberta Traffic Act and smoking in bars falls under provincial workplace safety legislation, parks and related facilities are strictly a city matter.
Previous legislation has had unintended results, however, said one participant, and it's time to expand the ban.

"Only 20 per cent of Albertans are smokers," said Michelle Sauve of the Canadian Cancer Society. "One of the consequences of the (bar and restaurant) policy is that it pushes smokers outside so it looks like there are more smokers than there are."

Jordan Mulholland isn't affiliated with any group but came to the meeting to support the motion. The young father said his family chose Medicine Hat as their home in part because of the parks system, but feels the unhealthy habit and litter created by non-degradable filters is ruining the experience.

"We've got lots of friends with little kids and they run around and pick up butts. It's a nuisance and a significant health hazard.

"My friend's two-year-old had one in their mouth."

Two young mothers who were watching their children play at Ross Glen Waterpark on Tuesday afternoon agreed.

"Not smoking would be out of respect for children," said Tammy Herbert. "This is not really an adult space."

"We preach that smoking is bad at home and then you come here and adults are smoking," said Jaylyn Werley. "There's no need to come here and have a cigarette."

Sauve said that a ban could be brought in three stages. The first year would involve child-specific places, such as playgrounds and sports fields, then be expanded to outdoor events like the Canada Day festival the next year, and eventually encompass all public parks, trails and city property.

Previous attempts to limit smoking have been politically volatile, with smokers claiming they are being herded around and that their rights are being trampled.

Sauve said that since then, however, many opponents have had a change of heart.

"Our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice," said Sauve. "We have anecdotal evidence of smokers who were initially opposed to the indoor bans but then the indoor bans helped them quit.

"The result is that we see a reduction in the number of smokers and that's only a positive thing in terms of the community and things like health care dollars."

Ald. Les Pearson said the Youth Advisory Board is "becoming the social conscience" of the city and another alderman said while the issue is bound to become political, it can be done.

"It's a touchy issue but when it comes to helping children it's a no brainer," said Ald. Robert Dumanowski. "There will be support but it's got to be done right."

"We're always couching these things in terms of 'where children are present,'" said Kelly. "Well 80 per cent of adults don't smoke and they don't like it either."

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