Over the last week, I have been dwelling over the recent changes to HRM’s Nuisance Bylaw to ban smoking on municipal property. These changes are coming in response to the legalization of cannabis. Municipalities in Nova Scotia, British Colombia, and Alberta are in a particular dilemma on this issue because the provincial governments in those three provinces didn’t ban cannabis use in public the way most provinces did.
When I voted to amend the Nuisance Bylaw to cover smoking, I thought I was voting for a smoking ban on municipal property. I knew that would be controversial, but smoking is a nuisance in smell and litter, and a public health concern. The changes to HRM’s Nuisance Bylaw allows staff to designate smoking areas and what’s become clear to me since over the last two weeks from talking to the public and staff is that designated smoking areas are going to form a larger part of the overall picture than I ever realized. As a result, I’m having second thoughts as to how practical HRM’s approach is. The difficult political spot of having changed my mind.
The reason that HRM has to setup smoking areas is because of practicality and social equity. The practical piece is that in the absence of handy smoking areas, people will smoke on the sidewalk anyway in defiance of the bylaw. The equity piece is that many apartment buildings are nonsmoking which means that a sidewalk ban effectively makes it impossible for many who don’t own private space to legally smoke. Making an addiction illegal isn’t a great policy approach. The result of these two factors is that there will be many smoking areas. Staff are already looking at sanctioning existing smoking spots and establishing more as needed. There are 1000 signs ready for the initial roll-out.
Given how common designated smoking areas are likely to be, I find myself struggling to identify what the underlying point is? Why ban smoking on municipal property only to turnaround and then designate a whole bunch of smoking areas? What is achieved by saying “smoke here, but not there” when it’s all the same sidewalk? This bylaw won’t rid our streets of cigarettes, what it will do is create a lot of bureaucracy. The discussion about where smoking areas will be is going to be difficult and acrimonious with some businesses wanting them nearby (bars and restaurants) while other property owners will oppose having every smoker on the block puffing near them. It’ll be a lot of time and energy and, in the end, it likely won’t matter all that much because it will be a bylaw that’s often violated.
The changes to the Nuisance Bylaw are starting to feel like the worst of all worlds, a ban that’s not really a ban, that will consume a lot of time and energy and that is simply not practical. This feels like micromanagement of public space and I have come to conclude, as much as I would like smoking to disappear, that HRM’s approach doesn’t make practical sense.
The entire point of the recent changes to the Nuisance Bylaw is to deal with the legalization of cannabis and I believe that’s where the municipality should refocus its efforts. What I will propose tomorrow as an added agenda item (my colleagues have to be willing to add it to the agenda) is a request for a staff report to revisit changes to the Nuisance Bylaw to remove tobacco from the prohibition on smoking on municipal property. Removing tobacco from the Bylaw would mean that it would still prohibited to smoke cannabis on all municipal property. Maintaining restrictions on cannabis is important because we’re setting the post-legalization community standard for HRM. It seems reasonable to me that since you can’t walk down the street drinking a beer, the same should be true of cannabis.
Eliminating tobacco from the Nuisance Bylaw would remove the need to micromanage smoking areas, an effort that will take up a lot of time and energy with questionable results (all smoking in Parks would still be banned). Prohibiting smoking cannabis in public is the approach that Calgary has opted for with their bylaw amendments and it’s what I have come to believe HRM should do as well.