Nicholas Simon: Vancouver smoking ban in parks and on beaches is unfair to us all

Last week, I sat at Third Beach with five friends and lazed in the sun. We joked around, discreetly sipped beers, and discussed random topics. At some point, I noticed our laughter and banter occurred between a good many cigarettes. One after the other, my friends would puff and chuckle the smoke out of their noses or speak while it escaped their lips. The smoke didn’t bother me, but a thought did: this is the last summer we will legally be allowed to do this.

On September 1, Vancouver imposed a no-smoking bylaw in all its parks and beaches. That scares me. Ironically, I am not a smoker; I do not approve of smoking. However, I do stand by the belief that Canadians should have the opportunity to choose the lifestyle that they prefer—as long as that lifestyle doesn’t harm the innocent. I believe this choice, and the protection of it, makes us Canadian.

A bylaw like this is not to be taken lightly. Many share a welcoming attitude to the new ban. I understand why, and I am not writing this in an attempt to argue the safety of public smoking. We all know that smoking kills, it is bad, shame on you. But smoking or any legal activity should not be discriminated against because it is unhealthy or simply because we do not like it.

The government collects massively high taxes from smokers yet continues to restrict the places people can enjoy a cancer stick. Smokers are not doing anything wrong. Why are they being punished?

In 2008, a smoking ban took effect on Vancouver restaurant and nightclub patios. In 2000, an earlier ban was imposed on indoor smoking, eliminating smoking sections and detoxifying indoor areas in businesses. This is a growing trend—one that may eventually see smokers reduced to smoking huddled in an open-air glass box erected high in the sky, neither indoor nor outdoor.

Now this in itself does not disturb me. The part that does bother me is the assault on civic liberties, the government declaring what we are allowed to do. What aspects of our life can be snatched away because someone deems them to be inappropriate or unsafe? Where do we draw the line?

I am not sure if I am more afraid of what Canada is becoming or of what it is. Perhaps the ideas of choice and freedom are simply illusions. It is starting to feel like we are only free to choose from the menu of what we are allowed to do. Now what if the things I like are not offered on that menu? Like hanging with my chain-smoking friends at the beach? I fear one day they will tell me that I cannot listen to hip-hop music in public, and then that I cannot play it loudly from my car, until a total ban on playing hip-hop music in Canada is imposed and I am confined to my iPod. We should be able to decide the way that we live and respect the choices of fellow Canadians despite our personal views.

In 2003, U.S. “shock jock” Tom Leykis was booted from Vancouver-based MOJO radio. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council accused the show of containing material discriminatory against women and of being inappropriate for Canadian listeners. The show was edgy but Leykis’s message was good: respect yourself or why should anyone else? The cancellation stemmed from a complaint reviewed by the CBSC, and eventually led to the death of MOJO.

At the time, I was a 20-something student eager to hear the insights and perspectives of Leykis and his callers. Before it was snatched away, the program encouraged me to form opinions on dating, the portrayal of women and their role in society, and premarital sex.

This listener may have spoken for some Vancouverites, but my views in no way speak for all Vancouverites. It is disturbing how people cannot simply turn to another station if something bothers them. It surprises me these people do not feel there should be a place for other people that do enjoy this—to enjoy it. I fear we live in a system where people want growing amounts of control on things they do not agree with.

That is a scary thought. A thought I was reminded of that day on the beach.

This may seem like an exaggeration based on one smoking bylaw in Vancouver, but it’s a slippery slope. There should be a place for Canadians to enjoy the things that they choose to enjoy. Any individual, bylaw, or group that stands in the way of this stands in the way of being Canadian.

There are alternative solutions to issuing a full-out ban: designated smoking areas in beaches and parks, and an increased amount of ashtrays for butts would be a start. We can achieve desired public-safety goals without infringing on the civic rights of our Canadian brethren. Those rights matter. Smokers in Vancouver are being treated unfairly, and as Canadians we need to stand up for them. My beach party depends on it.

Nicholas Simon writes about music for Beyond Robson.

Comments (49) Add New Comment
neible
damn, sucks to be a smoker
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spartikus
We don't allow people to ride around on motorbikes or cars or practice shooting their handguns in City of Vancouver Parks either, even though they are all perfectly legal activities.

Which is to say society restricts all sorts of legal activities.
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Thank You!
I was beginning to think I'm alone in this meek to-eager-to-comply-lets-tar-and-feather-all-the-smokers wanker city of hours. For a city where people openly smoke joints pretty much anywhere they feel like it, it sure is bizzare to try and stop someone from having a butt on the beach. We should probably ban cars before moving on to smoking. sheesh!
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Travis Nicholson
"I fear we live in a system where people want growing amounts of control on things they do not agree with."

Hear hear!
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Thomas Parsons
I am sorry, but you are comparing apples and oranges. Free speech and the right to smoke wherever they want is insane.

I frequent the parks and beaches and look forward to the times that I can walk down the beach without walking through discarded cigarette butts, or walking the seawall behind a smoker puffing out smoke behind them in my direction.

I say hooray for the Vancouver Parks Board. Great decision.
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LTD.Edition
I've said it before and I'll say it again.

The pretext for which this by-law was passed, the reasoning of it, doesn't line up.

Too many butts on the beaches and parks... Then why not enforce the littering laws?

Butts arn't an issue if it's self-rolled and without a filter though...

Oh but it's about 2nd hand smoke being cancerous and a leading cause of death / cancer... then why are "other weeds" included when many other smokable substances DON'T cause cancer (first hand or second hand)?

The reasoning is flawed and doesn't stand up to simplistic and straightforward scrutiny.

It's clearly about city image and garnering votes. If it's about something else, please clarify and explain the rational. Otherwise, the law should be amended.
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No, thank you!
I think the biggest issue that park users were taking with smoking on beaches were the cigarette butts that were being left in the sand, sometimes still lit. These are very hard to clean up and are often found by little fingers and feet.
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Ernst Thomas
Great piece Bro!! Ever thought about writting full time..this could potentially be an exceptional career move. Keep up the good work..

Heat10

et
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drone
Good point regarding slippery slopes.

But seriously I am sick of breathing other people's poisons when I am at a park or beach. It's disgustingly stinky and ruins the experience.

I feel for smokers -- they lack the self control to end a bad habit.

But they should not punish those around them with nasty fumes.
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Nicholas R Simon
@Thomas Parson. I never said people should have the right to smoke wherever they want. You should reread the article. It is about restriction and rules and the opinions of some affecting the rest. Freedom of speech isnt represented at all.

There is a small piece of me that likes the ban. Small. But wait until someone rallies to ban something you are into and we will see how you look forward to that treatment. It is easy to pick on smokers because smoking is gross.
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Cee Dub.
Clever article. Silly statement. Perhaps if your smoking friends did not toss their butts out of their moving cars, and did not toss them into culverts, or simply drop them whenever they were done with them, this would be less of a problem. However, when your friends are walking through the park smoking, do they pack out every single one of their butts, or did they casually toss it aside? Maybe they took the time to step on it, but did the ensure it was out? I guarantee you, your response will simply be that in this case they did, and that you have the only people in Vancouver who smoke responsibly.
Since the people who smoke cannot be made to care about themselves, we should make damn sure they are forced to care about public property and keep it from becoming littered with their filth or burnt down by their careless and reckless attitudes.
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Migzy
@ Nicholas

Freedom of speech not represented? I call BS! A quote from the article:

In 2003, U.S. “shock jock” Tom Leykis was booted from Vancouver-based MOJO radio. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council accused the show of containing material discriminatory against women and of being inappropriate for Canadian listeners. The show was edgy but Leykis’s message was good: respect yourself or why should anyone else? The cancellation stemmed from a complaint reviewed by the CBSC, and eventually led to the death of MOJO.
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Lindsay
Fabulous Article Nick!
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Dirty P
I say let people smoke but make the fine for tossing a butt $1000.

@Migzy!

I loved Tom Lykis!!

There is no freedom of speech in Canada. Bottom line.
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Clair
Yeah, smoking isn't a civic right, and I think in a city where our civic rights are actually being threatened by things like Project Civil City, we shouldn't be imagining threats like the park smoking ban.

Also, you start your article admitting you drink in public parks even though that's not allowed, so why the uproar about a smoking ban? I foresee the people who really want to smoke will (just like drinking) but hopefully they'll try to be discreet.
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van in japan
You make some good points, unfortunately you also fall victim to your own accusation: slippery slope.

Playing hip-hop on a stereo in public is not the same as smoking on the beach. If an elected official were ever to suggest this, I hope that we would all laugh at his idiocy. Unfortunately, in making this point, you have made yourself the fool.

While I have no strong feelings either way regarding banning smoking in public parks (but would love it if smokers showed more responsibility with thier butts), I think you are going a little overboard with your suppositions. Glad that someone is bringing this issue to light, I wish you had just taken a more realistic and less victimized approach to your article.
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BikerCK
There are dozens of legal activities that are prohibited by law in certain places or during certain times. Drinking in public places, excessive noise after certain hours, construction work before certain start times. Whatever the merits of the law, the underpinnings of the author's thesis don't stand up to closer inspection. Smokers are no more or less put upon than the eager home renovator who wishes to fire up the nail gun at 6am on a Sunday.
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Moogie
What a poor argument. First, smoking does harm the innocent, through 2nd-hand smoke, litter (cigarette butts are among the most ubiquitous forms of litter on beaches and in the ocean), and increased burden on the healthcare system.

And "the government declaring what we are allowed to do"? You can't be serious. The government declares what we can and can't do all the time. It's called civilization.

That's just for a start, never mind the cliches and the silly image at the top of cheerful smokers having fun, just like in a cigarette commercial.
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D
I think the basic ethos of any civil society should be that any adult has the right to do anything they want for their own personal enjoyment/need provided they don't impinge upon or interfere with another persons rights and freedoms. With rights come responsibilites.

So while I agree you shouldn't be banned from listening to your music of choice in public I don't think you should be allowed to blast it from your car or anywhere else as that interferes with my right to enjoy relative peace and quiet (try living near any busy street like Robson or Water on a Saturday night and you'll come to appreciate this more) I think I should be able to enjoy a glass of beer or wine at the beach/park provided I don't get pissed and disturb others or leave a mess. Been to Germany many times where drinking in public places is allowed and never seen any problems, why because the law really cracks down on those who do abuse their rights and misbehave. I've even had a beer while passenger in a car there as long as the driver doesn't drink it's allowed but believe me the punishment drinking and driving is stiff there.

In Canada when a minority of people abuse their rights whether it's drunken loogans who ruin everyone elses fun by starting fights or puking/pissing on the beach or smokers who leave their butts or people who leave their garbage everywhere we stop everyone from doing it.

I like you am partially in favour of restricting where people are allowed to smoke, for example I agree on banning smoking inside buildings where non-smokers cannot avoid the unpleasant smell and the health effects of 2nd hand smoke. I think you should be able to smoke in your home or car provided the other occupants don't mind although don't think it should be allowed when children are impacted by it, sorry dad but you shouldn't have smoked in the car when us kids were in there. I mostly agree with banning smoking in restaurants however think if the restaurant or bar wants to have a smoking area and they can absolutely ensure through ventilation or isolation that no-one who doesn't want to smell the foul weed, employees included, has to then let them do it.

In Canada if some people can't behave like grown adults our governments treat us all like children. This is not reflective of a modern, just or tolerant society. When people live in close proximity to other people we must have laws that protect everyones rights peace, enjoyment and personal fulfillment. But that is where the law should stop.
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Brad111
You want some free speech? Listen to Tom Leykis on free speech.



His ratings were very high in Vancouver and that is why he got kicked off.
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