While smoking rates have steadily declined over the last decades, tobacco still kills more people every year than all illegal drugs, suicides, homicides and car accidents combined.
January 19-25 is National Non-Smoking Week and Interior Health wants to remind everyone of the importance of local action to address the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Canada.
One of the most effective ways communities can reduce the harm of cigarettes is to limit their use in public areas. Creating smoke-free environments is a great way to improve the health of your community. Smoke-free outdoor spaces are very effective in helping children and youth grow up to be non-smokers.
Smoke-free bylaws are not intended to punish those who are dependent on tobacco, but instead to assist smokers to quit and protect people from exposure to second-hand smoke.
“There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” says Trish Hill, Tobacco Reduction Coordinator at Interior Health.
“By creating smoke-free outdoor spaces, communities make smoking seem less normal, which contributes to lowering smoking rates. This is particularly important for the well-being of children and adolescents because of the message it conveys, namely that inhaling smoke into your lungs is not normal.”
Communities with smoke-free parks, playgrounds, beaches and trails tend to have lower smoking rates. In Woodstock, Ontario, 38 per cent of people said the outdoor smoke-free bylaw helped them quit, and 40 per cent said it helped them to stay a non-smoker. The bylaw did not negatively impact use of facilities, businesses, or attendance at community events.
Smoke-free parks, beaches and playgrounds also lower the risk of toxic litter, which may be ingested by children or pets; and reduces wildfire in forested areas. In the 2012 BC shoreline clean-up, tobacco related litter outnumbered any other by three times.
“Public support for smoke-free outdoor areas is on the rise,” added Hill. “It’s not surprising since more than 85 per cent of British Columbians don’t use tobacco. In fact, more than 30 communities in BC, from Vancouver to Kelowna to Sicamous, have enacted restrictions on smoking in parks and on beaches, joining hundreds more across North America.”
The Tobacco Reduction Team partners with local governments, agencies, Aboriginal communities and individuals to promote healthy, smoke-free environments. This is done through presentations to councils, advising and commenting on bylaw language, providing ‘lessons learned’ from other communities and encouraging local governments to include smoke-free space in their visioning and planning.
To find out about the smoke-free bylaws in your area, check your community’s website.