A fire scorched this fence at Colony Farm Regional Park in the summer of 2010.

Metro regional parks, trails eyed for full smoking ban

Alternatives include defining smoking or smoke-free zones

A potential blanket ban on smoking in all Metro Vancouver regional parks and greenways could force puffers to butt out at beaches, trails and campgrounds run by the regional district.

A range of possible restrictions will be considered by Metro’s parks committee, which could opt to send the issue out for public consultation before any decisions are made.

The options include a blanket ban in all Metro-run parks and greenways; defined smoking zones; a limited ban on smoking in specific zones near high-activity areas; or continue the status quo with smoking restricted in trails and hazard areas when the fire risk is high as well as the standard provincial ban on smoking near building doorways.

A full ban with fines for violators would go farthest to protect park users from second-hand smoke, according to a staff report.

It says that would also eliminate litter, leaching toxins and the risk of wildfire from discarded cigarette butts.

But Langley Coun. Gayle Martin, Metro parks committee chair and a smoker herself, says it’s too heavy handed.

“I don’t approve of a full ban,” she said. “A partial ban would still allow people to exercise their rights as a smoker.”

Martin said a limited ban could allow designated areas for smoking in popular gathering areas of parks, including smoking sections of beaches.

Smoking should be allowed on trails in the region, she added, but not near children’s playgrounds.

Martin also opposes any move to outlaw campfires under such a ban at Metro-run campgrounds, such as Derby Reach in Langley or Matsqui Trail.

“Campfires are part of camping,” she said. “What about the motor homes running their generators and all the fumes they produce?”

Martin said she will also seek clarification of whether a Metro no-smoking policy that specifies “tobacco” smoking might leave a legal loophole where marijuana smokers couldn’t be ticketed.

It’s not clear how far Metro could go to enforce a smoke ban.

The region can’t afford to dramatically step up ranger patrols to police parks for smoking, Martin said.

That means common sense will be critical no matter what happens, she said.

“As a smoker, I am very respectful of non-smokers when I am out in the public. I don’t want smoke to drift into their face.”

Martin said it doesn’t make sense to send the issue out to extensive and potentially costly public consultation, saying the public would likely overwhelmingly support a full ban.

“I think we know what the answer is going to be,” she said.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart agreed, adding his city – which already banned smoking it parks – conducted a referendum last year that found 79 per cent of voters supported a now-implemented extension to also ban smoking on sidewalks and patios, including private ones such as coffee shops that children can access.

“The voices for clean air in public spaces spoke quite loudly,” he said, adding the region shouldn’t spend too much on any consultation.

Stewart sits on the parks committee and said he hasn’t yet decided which option he will support.

The danger of fires from discarded cigarettes is serious, he said, pointing to a “nearly disastrous” fire at Colony Farm Regional Park in Coquitlam last summer.

“It’s an enormous risk for our urban parks,” Stewart said. “A butt lands in dry grass or bark mulch and you could lose the entire park.”

No matter what the committee recommends, the issue will have to go to a decision of the full Metro board, which doesn’t meet again until June 24.

Any new rules wouldn’t affect civic parks run by municipalities.

But Vancouver, West Vancouver, White Rock, Coquitlam and Port Moody already ban smoking in all parks, including trails, while Richmond, North Vancouver District, Belcarra and Abbotsford ban smoking at playing fields, playgrounds and, in some cases, beaches.

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.

Map of Metro Vancouver regional parks and greenways