After hearing passionate pleas from both sides, Prince Albert's lawmakers opted to adopt a lighter form of smoking restrictions, citing the new rules as a good first step to modernizing the city’s public smoking legislation.
In a 5-2 vote, councillors ushered the Smoking in Public Places Bylaw through its second and third readings Tuesday afternoon, bringing in new rules around where smokers can light up cigarettes and eventually cannabis in the city. While councillors praised a handful of the provisions within the bylaw, particularly those outlawing smoking and vaping on restaurant patios and creating a designated smoking area outside the Art Hauser Centre — council debated whether or not to implement an outright ban on smoking and vaping in public spaces or put in place just a nine-metre buffer zone around outdoor spectator areas, playgrounds and other recreational areas. Cook Municipal Golf Course has been exempt from the restriction.
Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski campaigned heavily to once again pause third reading to reassess some aspects of the law. He said the new bylaw “falls short of public expectations,” and branded it a “paper tiger.”
“I am not talking about a full ban at all public spaces," he said. "I am talking about youth and public entrances.”
Zurakowski also questioned the enforceability of the arbitrary nine-metre buffer zone. He believed the city could be more proactive and find a compromise for smoking at outdoor recreation sites.
“Why nine metres? Why not seven? Why not 21? Why not 18.5? It makes no sense to me,” he said. “Now smokers, in addition to buying a pack of smokes, need to buy a tape measure.”
Zurakowski was not alone, as Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards likewise wanted to send the document back to city administration for refinement. Though he initially supported the nine-metre rule and respected the feedback from the community services advisory committee (CSA) that recommended the buffer over a ban, he said additional public feedback swayed his vote.
"If we create a nine-metre buffer zone from the spectator area, what does that mean? There are bleachers … there are also several people along the fence in chairs. Is that a spectator area?” he said. “I think there is going to be some controversy.”
Adding to the conversation Tuesday were Carolyn and Tom Strom. The Prince Albert residents, who are also parents, addressed council to speak in favour of an all-out ban. Carolyn cited the already high smoking rate in the city and the former Parkland Health Region and said a smoke-free environment could aid in reducing the normalization of smoking.
"Children and youth learn a lot by what they see,” she said. “We can do something big and bold and try to change the course of unhealthy behaviours and better the outcome of our community's health ... We don’t want to fall behind the times.”
Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick said he understood the Stroms' concerns, but was in favour of the nine-metre buffer because the law was already vetted by the CSA, which is a board made up of residents. While he was initially in favour of an outright ban, he said he was swayed, in part, by the committee's recommendation. He said the CSA committee was similarly in favour of a full ban, but walked back the decision due to enforcement concerns and the fact smoking is an addiction.
“By banning an addiction, you are not going to get rid of that totally,” Ogrodnick said. “I feel this is a good compromise … It isn’t going to put children at risk.”
Though Ward 2 Coun. Evert Botha said there is more work to be done on the file, called the bylaw a “good start” and commended the work of the CSA committee.
“Can this be amended in three months, six months, nine months from now? I think we will have to take our lead from the feedback,” he said.
The city has worked toward strengthening its public smoking bylaw for over a year in efforts to bring the current legislation, which dates back to 1993, in line with modern practices.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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