Smoke-free bylaw clears hurdle

Smokers may soon have to butt out at outdoor places where children hang out as early as next month.

Smokers may soon have to butt out at outdoor places where children hang out as early as next month.

In an effort to reduce children’s exposure to second-hand smoke, city council gave first reading by a vote of 7 to 1 to a revamped smoke-free bylaw.

Under the new bylaw, smoking within 10 metres of playgrounds, sports fields, spray parks, skating rinks, toboggan hills and skate parks is banned. As well the definition of smoking has been expanded to include other lit substances like cannabis that generate second-hand smoke.

But the bylaw does not extend to all outdoor public places like parks or events such as outdoor celebrations and festivals. Coun. Paul Harris said that’s one reason he voted against the bylaw.

“I think we’re spending way too much time doing research when really we should just get it done,” said Harris. “We’re making a meal out of a snack. It’s smoke-free in the public market. It’s already self-regulating. I think we should get it done and put it to bed.”

After some discussion about leaving these areas out of the bylaw, city council directed administration to bring forward another report to explore further amendments to the bylaw to include outdoor public events, festivals and special events.

Coun. Cindy Jefferies said council has been presented with a lot of good information to base future amendments to the bylaw.

“I encourage places like the market and city events to try and promote smoke free environments a well,” said Jefferies. “I think we will move to it eventually.”

Several councillors raised concerns about enforcing the bylaw which administration said would be complaint driven. Rule breakers would net a $200 fine for a first offence and up $2,500 for subsequent offences.

“In some respects I think it is wise for us to be proactive,” said Coun. Tara Veer. “I think if there’s large gatherings of people and if the existing bylaw is not being respected to its fullest extent then we can feel good about adding extra provisions but if it is not enforced then in my view it is less meaningful.”

Veer led the charge to expand the definition of smoking in public spaces to include cannabis, hashish, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and herbal products. Veer said the broader definition shows more respect for cigarettes smokers who are subject to municipal and provincial fines while someone smoking drugs next to them would “get off scott free.”

“In my view addresses a past inequity amongst our citizens where smokers were being more vilified than drug smokers standing next to them,” said Veer.

Veer said as they move forward it is important to allow the community to weigh in on the proposed changes.

The bylaw does allow provisions to allow spiritual and aboriginal ceremonial activities. Council would also launch a $10,000 public awareness campaign, including purchasing new signs. The one-time funding would come from the tax stabilization reserve. Last year, the city received three requests from the community to expand the bylaw to further protect children.

Council will consider second and third reading on Feb. 4. Coun. Dianne Wythjes was not present for the meeting.

In other council news:

• Red Deer residents are one step closer to paying for their utilities on a usage-based fee system. City council gave first reading to the 2013 utility bylaw.

• An extra line may be added to electric bills as city council voted 5 to 3 to implement a “rate rider” that would reflect the unpredictable Alberta Electric System Operator’s (AESO) transmission charges. Residents already pay this charge in their rate that is approved every year in the budget process. In 2012, the city was $3 million short in its estimates. The newly implemented rate rider will help cover the costs of that loss over 12 or 24 months. Effective March 1, the average household will pay $2.30 more a month based on a house that uses 600 kilowatt per hour (kwh). Councillors Chris Stephan, Paul Harris and Tara Veer were opposed. Coun. Paul Harris was concerned about the extra line on the bill that may potentially confuse Red Deerians. Harris said he would have liked to see the rate adjusted every quarter.

Coun. Cindy Jefferies said the charges are a result of AESO’s work and are not something the city has any control over.

• Red Deerians will have to wait until the Feb. 4 council meeting to find out whether a plebiscite question that asked voters to decide whether they want to move to a ward system from an at large election will be put on the ballot. The motion was tabled because council ran out of time at its Monday meeting.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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