Earlier this summer, Regina implemented one of the strictest outdoor smoking bylaws in the country. In doing so it joins a long list of Canadian municipalities protecting residents from the harms of second-hand smoke, including some here in Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, Warman, Martensville and Maidstone). As a result, smoking and the use of electronic cigarettes are banned on outdoor patios of restaurants and bars, all municipal properties including parks, playgrounds, sports fields, on golf courses and any municipal property where the public gathers. This is something all Saskatchewan residents can be proud of, as our province has one of the highest smoking rates in the country and we need to take decisive action to start saving lives and protecting the health of our people.
The Regina bylaw came after years of advocacy by health groups, including the Canadian Cancer Society, The Lung Association of Saskatchewan and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and after an extensive public consultation. Nearly 10,000 people participated in an online survey, the biggest in recent history. Residents spoke out and made it clear they wanted outdoor public spaces free of second-hand smoke and vapour.
Since the provincial government adopted laws banning smoking indoors in 2005, we have become used to it and, in fact, we like it. Poll after poll has found this to be the case. Second-hand smoke is not just bothersome, it is toxic. It contains thousands of chemicals, at least 69 known to cause cancer, and there is no safe level of exposure. Research has shown that tobacco smoke outdoors can be just as concentrated as it is indoors, depending on the number of people smoking, weather conditions and location. In the case of a restaurant server who might spend upwards of 8 hours on a smoke-filled outdoor patio, this is a workplace health and safety issue.
Saskatchewan has one of the highest smoking rates in the country – 17% compared to 13% nationally. Tobacco use kills more than 1,500 Saskatchewan residents annually (2005), accounting for approximately 1 out of 5 deaths.
Smoking bans help people quit. Several studies have shown that when smoking restrictions are implemented, people have quit their tobacco addiction or cut back, and that smoke-free patios may help former users avoid relapse.
Smoke-free outdoor public places also help to denormalize smoking. Since most people start smoking before their 18th birthday, having outdoor spaces smoke-free is significant in shaping healthy supportive environments. Youth who do not see adults smoking or vaping will be less likely to view these as normal social behaviours, and thereby, are less likely to start themselves.
Outdoor smoking bans are also good for the environment. They reduce the number of discarded butts and municipal cleanup costs, and reduce the risk of fires.
Smoking restrictions are a key component to reducing smoking rates, along with increased tobacco taxes, restrictions on advertising, mass-reaching public education and accessible cessation interventions. We applaud municipalities for their leadership in creating smoke and vapefree environments.
Unfortunately, there are many Saskatchewan communities that do not have this same protection. This is why it is critical that the provincial government introduce legislation so that every child and adult is protected, regardless of their postal code. Through introduction of a comprehensive provincial policy which makes all outdoor public spaces smoke-free, we can create a healthier future for all Saskatchewan residents. We challenge the municipalities of Saskatchewan to adopt outdoor smoke and vape-free bylaws and to advocate for provincial legislation to do the same.
Donna Pasiechnik, Canadian Cancer Society
Jennifer May, The Lung Association, Saskatchewan
Fleur Macqueen Smith, Heart & Stroke, Saskatchewan