Metro directors douse idea of full smoking ban in parks

Most parts of regional parks, trails would stay cigarette-friendly

Metro Vancouver will draw up new rules to restrict smoking in high-traffic areas of regional parks but it won’t force all smokers to butt out throughout parks and trails.

That’s the preliminary decision of the Metro parks committee Wednesday after Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson’s motion for a full ban on smoking in regional parks was defeated 7-4.

“The majority of people don’t want to be bothered walking down a trail on a beach or anywhere else in a park by second-hand smoke,” Stevenson said.

Burnaby Coun. Pietro Calendino and Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean supported a complete ban.

But Area A director Maria Harris said there should be places to smoke in Metro’s parks.

“We can’t be the health police,” she said, adding she also opposes a smoking ban on trails.

Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin, the parks committee chair, agreed trails should be exempt.

“On a trail I don’t think you see 30 or 40 people walking together smoking cigarettes,” she said.

Martin said restrictions are needed where people congregate, such as picnic shelters, as well as beaches and playgrounds.

The committee voted to have staff report back on possible restrictions to ban smoking near those areas, potentially with designated smoking zones also provided.

Martin noted managers can already ban smoking temporarily when fire hazards are high.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said Metro would have to start banning some food from picnic baskets if it wants to block all unhealthy activities in parks.

“The only difference between a cigarette and a French fry is the cigarette has the ability to affect others,” he said.

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said it would be simplest to leave the exact placement of no-smoking zones or designated smoking areas to Metro parks managers, adding that has been Surrey’s practice.

Calendino said the parks committee was “waffling” by not proceeding with a full ban.

A final decision will go to a vote of the full Metro board in the months ahead, where Vancouver councillors could still try to push through a full ban.

“We’re very much in favour of a complete prohibition,” Stevenson said. “We feel it’s like an airplane – you head to a park, you don’t smoke any more.”

Vancouver is one of several cities in the region that already bans smoking throughout its civic parks and he said Metro needs to follow suit to make a health statement.

More of the remaining smokers might be spurred to quit if parks go off limits, he added.

“I feel understanding for senior citizens who maybe got off the battlefields smoking but maybe they need to quit too.”

MacLean said few smokers use parks anyway.

“It’s hard to walk when you smoke a pack or two a day,” he said.

Any rules could follow in the vein of some other cities in the region and cover not just tobacco smoking but also marijuana and hookah pipe use in parks.

The committee rejected a staff recommendation to go out to public consultation on multiple options, including a complete ban.

Martin said Metro will not ban campfires at Metro-run campgrounds.

Langley Township Coun. Mel Kositsky said the smoking in parks issue should be regulated in all areas by the provincial government, rather than leaving a patchwork quilt of differing regulations in each city as well as the Metro parks.

Different rules in different parks confuses residents who travel across civic boundaries, he said, adding there are similar problems with differing regulations to prevent metal theft and restrict pesticide use.

Any new Metro policy that rolls out would affect areas like Tynehead, Campbell Valley, Pacific Spirit, Lynn Headwaters and Belcarra regional parks as well as greenways such as Pitt River and Seymour River.

Beaches governed by Metro Parks include Centennial Beach at Boundary Bay Regional Park, Wreck Beach in Vancouver and Sasamat Lake in Belcarra.

In all, Metro runs 22 regional parks as well as four greenways that will include 100 kilometres of trails once complete.