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ASH lobbies Banff to toughen up on public smoking restrictions

“Tobacco places an enormous burden on our health, our quality of life, and our healthcare system,” said Les Hagen executive director of ASH.
Banff Town Hall 2
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – One of Canada’s leading tobacco control organizations is calling on the famed tourist town to toughen up regulations governing tobacco smoking in public places.

Officials with Action on Smoking & Health (ASH) say they encourage the Town of Banff to update its current bylaw to align restrictions on smoking and vaping of tobacco with tough limitations on cannabis use – currently not allowed in any public places in Banff.

“Tobacco kills 50 times more Canadians than cannabis so any restrictions that can be justified for cannabis use can certainly be justified for tobacco use and vaping,” said Les Hagen, executive director of ASH, during a council meeting on Monday (Nov. 22).

Banff was the first municipality in Alberta to ban smoking in all bars and restaurants in 2004.

Hagen said ASH has developed a model smoking bylaw to provide Banff and other municipalities with guidance on the issue.

“It will bring Banff back up to the standard it was 15 years ago when it led the province,” he said. “We encourage you to continue with that leadership.”

According to ASH, tobacco and nicotine use results in 50,000 deaths a year in Canada, which represents about 20 per cent of all deaths in the country.

About one million Canadian are suffering from the consequences of tobacco use, and about one in every two long-term smokers will die prematurely from an illness resulting from tobacco.

Hagen said second-hand smoke is also harmful, killing about 1,000 Canadians every year.

“Tobacco places an enormous burden on our health, our quality of life, and our healthcare system,” he said.

In recent years, Hagen said there has been an explosive rise in vaping, particularly among youth.

He said there are about 400,000 youth vaping.

“This is an unacceptable number,” he said. “Children and youth who vape are at a three-fold risk of smoking.”

Hagen said studies indicate that for every adult who successfully stops smoking by vaping, there are a whopping 80 youth vapers who start smoking.

“The public health tradeoff is definitely not there as far as social benefit,” he said.

“Almost 100 per cent of youth who vape are using flavoured products and this is a huge concern.”

Hagen said a Banff bylaw should include provisions to prohibit smoking and vaping at all public events held in public venues and all recreation spaces, including parks and trails.

“Children and youth frequent public places and spaces including outdoor markets, arts and recreation spaces,” he said.

“They should be fully protected from smoking and vaping in these public areas.”

Hagen said ASH is also calling for smoking bans to be extended to group living facilities, noting people who live in these facilities are often elderly and have compromised immune systems.

He said smoking should also be banned in hotel and motel rooms.

“Canmore and Airdrie have both done this years ago, in fact, more than 10 years ago, “ he said.

“Their hospitality businesses have not suffered so that’s one positive step Banff can take.”

In June 2020, Banff town council opted to put off further conversation on tobacco smoking restrictions due to a backlog of work due to the COVID-19 shutdown and to wait for pending provincial legislation.

Leading up to that, a survey of more than 500 Banff residents indicated 56 per cent of respondents did not currently vape or smoke, while 44 per cent did.

Areas where respondents felt further restrictions could be put in place included outdoor skating rinks at 61 per cent, playgrounds at 83 per cent, transit stops at 75 per cent, outdoor markets at 67 per cent and sports fields at 63 per cent.

The two areas where individuals believed tobacco smoking should continue to be allowed was Central Park and the townsite’s trail system. Only one-third of non-smokers agreed with that, but a very high majority of smokers felt that should be allowed.

A slight majority (58 per cent) believed tobacco smoking should also be restricted at outdoor events and concerts, on sidewalks (57 per cent), at the skate park (56 per cent), at picnic areas at the recreation grounds (52 per cent).

Most respondents (79 per cent) felt public events such as markets, festivals and concerts should be allowed to have designated areas where smoking tobacco is allowed.

“You can see strong support locally for a number of measures to further enhance your restrictions in Banff,” said Hagen.

The province of Alberta passed legislation for further restrictions on tobacco smoking and vaping in July, including at hospitals, schools and childcare properties, playgrounds, sports and playing fields, skateboard parks and bicycle parks.

Hagen said the tougher rules are welcome, but they don’t cover all parks and public events and he encouraged Banff town council to close these loopholes.

“Other municipalities have closed their loopholes – Okotoks, Strathmore, St. Albert, Lloydminster, Camrose and Vermilion,” he said.

“You won’t be the first, but we certainly look forward to your leadership.”

Town of Banff officials told council that potential options for tougher smoking restrictions were put on the back-burner during COVID-19.

“We have it scheduled to bring back to you in 2022,” said Alison Gerrits, the director of community services for the Town of Banff.

“We can pull together options for council to consider on the potential for strengthening our bylaw and going further than the provincial act with respect to public smoking.”

Mayor Corrie DiManno was satisfied with that response.

“It sounds like council will see this sometime in 2022 and there will be a host of options in front of us at that time,” she said.