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Health Unit asking Stratford for tougher outdoor smoking rules

Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff

The Perth District Health Unit is asking the City of Stratford to make its parks, playgrounds and outdoor recreational facilities smoke-free environments.

The city’s smoking bylaw prohibits people from lighting up indoors at public places and at work, but places no restrictions around municipally owned outdoor spaces.

Getting people to butt out around facilities that are meant to promote healthy living “just makes sense,” believes Adrienne Adas, a public health promoter with the health unit.

She says the latest research on second-hand smoke suggests not enough is being done in Ontario to protect children who, as their brains and lungs continue to grow and develop, are more susceptible to a cigarette’s toxins than adults.

And while many may believe smoking outside poses less danger to those around them, Adas is quick to point out “research is showing time and time again that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke … especially if we’re talking about children, who are less likely to leave an area with smoke or event complain about it.”

The health unit has presented the city with several possibilities for its bylaw, including prohibiting smoking within nine or 30 metres of a playground and outdoor facility, prohibiting smoking in all parks except in designated areas or banning smoking in parks altogether.

The health unit is also asking the city to consider a nine metre setback from entranceways to municipally owned buildings that would mirror provincial regulations already in place for healthcare facilities, restaurants and bars and schools.

On Monday evening, city council is expected to approve an earlier recommendation from the community services subcommittee to hold a public meeting at a future council meeting to hear from the public on the proposed new restrictions.

While the suggested rules vary considerably, Adas says the health unit would “lean towards something more stringent than lenient,” adding it’s the organization’s belief the general public supports tougher rules for smokers.

She cites specifically a 2009 report from Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada which concluded 94 per cent of Canadians support measures that promote smoke-free environments in public spaces.

Adas adds there are a number of municipalities across Ontario that are beginning to investigate and adopt bylaws that regulate outdoor smoking.

The City of Woodstock, for instance, adopted a comprehensive smoking bylaw in 2009, and just last year the Town of St. Marys, in response to complaints from residents, amended its bylaw to ban smoking within nine metres of any playgrounds or splash pad.

In the case of Woodstock, Adas notes a follow-up evaluation found there had been no negative impact on the use of the facilities. On a similar note, the Stratford Sports Council has reviewed the health unit’s proposal and has not voiced any objections.

Adas says it’s the health unit’s hope that banning smoking in more outdoor spaces will not only help protect the public’s health, but encourage smokers to think about quitting and promote a healthier environment by reducing litter.

She notes over one day last April the health unit’s THINK youth team went around the city and collected thousands of cigarette butts around the city, many from parks and other public spaces frequented by kids.

Whatever city council decides, Adas says the city has to ensure the public is properly educated, noting with proper signage in place it is the experience of other municipalities that any changes to the bylaw will become self-enforced over time.

“People just need to know what’s expected of them if they are going to be expected to comply,” she adds.

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