Waiting is punitive in smoking fight

The cigarette smoke signals are drifting up again.

By John Stewart, Black Press

The cigarette smoke signals are drifting up again.

Will the provincial government, at last, be able to read — and react to — the signs?

Or will it be up to municipalities to set in motion comprehensive smoking bans in public outdoor areas?

The track record of the Progressive Conservative government, when it comes to anti-smoking legislation, is predictably sluggish.

Five years ago, a tail-dragging Alberta government implemented the Tobacco Reduction Act, which prohibits smoking in all public places and workplaces.

Alberta was the last province in the country to enact legislation on smoking in indoor public places and workplaces.

By the time the legislation took effect in July 2008, standard practice throughout the province had made the legislation all but pointless (even the fines, though punitive, hardly seem necessary now).

Most municipalities, workplaces and commercial entities had long-standing smoking bans. Red Deer’s Smoke Free Bylaw was entrenched two years before the provincial law took effect.

The hard work was already done. In many areas, the provincial act simply echoed municipal standards, though it changed the way that restaurants and bars operated, even on patios.

In the end, smokers had three choices: smoke at home, smoke in your car or smoke outside — but not within five metres of the doorways of public buildings.

And now, led by municipalities, we’re winnowing that list of acceptable places to smoke.

Albertans who smoke in their vehicles with children present create a poisonous iron lung.

The Canadian Cancer Society says second-hand tobacco smoke renders children smaller, and leaves them with immature immune systems and leads to more respiratory issues, including asthma. Second-hand tobacco smoke is also linked to childhood cancers and sudden infant-death syndrome.

Almost a year ago, a private member’s bill to ban smoking in vehicles with children present was unanimously passed in the Alberta legislature.

It still has not been implemented, despite support expressed by Premier Alison Redford.

The sponsor of the bill, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, said he considered it largely instructive rather than punitive.

Some Alberta communities, like Leduc, Medicine Hat and Okotoks, already have bylaws prohibiting such smoking — and others are considering it.

Those communities decided not to wait indefinitely for the province to do the right thing. Waiting is punitive, and not particularly instructive.

Now, the next anti-smoking movement is underway, and it’s likely again that the province will show little initiative until the issue is long past settled.

This week, Red Deer city council gave first reading to a revised smoke-free bylaw that would prohibit outdoor smoking within 10 metres of playgrounds, sports fields, spray parks, skating rinks, toboggan hills and skate parks.

It’s an initiative that should be part of provincial legislation.

It’s an initiative that other municipalities, in Alberta and elsewhere, have undertaken or are discussing.

In Ottawa, for example, a year-old bylaw prohibits smoking on all municipal properties, including parks, playgrounds, beaches, sports fields, fruit and vegetable markets, and outdoor areas around city facilities.

Red Deer council’s proposal doesn’t go this far — though it should, as Coun. Paul Harris has suggested.

But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Smoking is dangerous, addictive and costly. We need to discourage it at every turn, and do everything in our power to prevent another generation from getting hooked.

That includes, as much as possible, taking it out of the public eye. We also need to ensure that the vast majority of people can enjoy all public places.

And we can’t wait for the province to belatedly show leadership on the issue.

John Stewart is the managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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