I quit smoking 19 years ago, after a couple of decades planning to do so any day now.
That smoking is an addiction there is no doubt and an expensive one at that, in terms of both health and the pocketbook.
When I began teaching at Fanshawe College in 1972, students and teachers were still smoking in the classrooms, although those days were numbered. Gradually it became more difficult to find a place to indulge our habit. First came no smoking in the classrooms, then in faculty offices. Next came cafeterias, and pretty soon there was no smoking anywhere indoors. There were those who huddled around doorways in bad weather and sat at picnic tables in good. But really, it was all becoming far too much trouble. One by one the old gang was giving up cigarettes. To be a smoker was to be a pariah. Some of us took to smoking in private, secretly.
But eventually, most of us quit. Perhaps we would have done so anyway, but I firmly believe that the restrictions being placed on where smoking was permitted hastened that decision.
Still, one in five Ontarians smoke, most becoming addicted as I did, during their teen or even pre-teen years. So anything that we can do to reduce the opportunity to get addicted as well as to reduce the influence of smoking role models, the better. And, of course, the issue of second hand smoke is an important one, for health and enjoyment of public spaces.
The province’s ban on smoking in private vehicles carrying underaged passengers was a good step in that direction. Last night the Community Services Committee asked the public to weigh in on some local restrictions, smoking in public parks and at entrances to municipal buildings. Council had asked staff to bring back some options for these and they did.
The recommendations weren’t new. The options ranged from doing nothing to a complete ban on smoking in public parks and requiring a nine meter smoke free area around entrances to municipal buildings.
The arguments weren’t new, either. Most of those who presented, either in person or in writing, supported a full ban on smoking in parks and the nine meter distance from entrances. Those taking the position included nursing students, the Health Unit, the Cancer Society, a group called Scent Free London, the London Public Library and an assortment of parents. They cited statistics and research as well as concerns about children (and adults) being able to enjoy public outdoor spaces without being assaulted by tobacco smoke.
There were also a couple of voices on the other side making the usual arguments about freedom of choice, feelings of persecution, how cars and trucks are worse than smokers, and what are they to do if they can’t smoke at festivals? One woman became especially incensed about this attack on democracy and why was council wasting time on this. Prohibition had given rise to the Mafia, and who knows what would happen if smoking were banned? “Smokers are taxpayers, too,” she pointed out, noting that she herself had quit. She hoped that voters could get “a council with brains”.
We were about to find out if she got her wish. It was time for the members of the committee to debate and decide on a recommendation.
First up was Bill Armstrong. He quickly disabused any members of the public that he would support a total ban on smoking in public parks. That was just going too far. Maybe sometime in the future.
Armstrong’s position is interesting. It was he who led the successful charge introducing and then strengthening a by-law on idling vehicles, arguing that they polluted the environment. Apparently, that’s not something he is concerned about when it comes to smoking in parks. He made a motion to accept a nine meter distance from playground equipment in addition to the smoke free zone at building entrances. He was quickly seconded by Dale Henderson whose turn it was next.
Unfortunately, I had not brought a tape recorder with me to the meeting. Henderson’s train of thought is always difficult to follow as full sentences and paragraphs hold little sway for him.
Last week he had made an unprecedented attack on staff, referring to them as “vindictive” in recommending a refusal on a planning application. This time the object of his scorn was the PhD candidate from the Canadian Cancer Society.
He got elected, Henderson wanted the public to know, because the electorate wanted to put people in power who know what is going on. (Full disclosure: I ran against Henderson who won by 212 votes.)
He wanted real research, not the inferior stuff put out by the Cancer Society. Something that you don’t just read in the paper 800 times and believe it’s true. About cancer killing people, lots of things killed people: buses, trucks, pollution. This was no reason to shut down people’s rights. For him, this was an issue of freedom. As for health care, this would change the rules of this country. Did they realize that there were 8 or 10 protocols and the health system was only looking at four? He started to enumerate them—chemotherapy, radiation—but he was interrupted by other committee members to stick to the issue and address the committee, not the presenters.
“Don’t lecture the audience,” the chair, Matt Brown, chided him.
The admonition had little effect. There were other things to be worried about. “Look at food, sugar, stress, people smoke to calm themselves,” Henderson continued. In the US, suicide is number 1, more than automobiles,” he continued. He wanted people to keep living in London. “And London is the second happiest city”. Somewhere in there he ranted about a woman and some sheep in Montana killed because they were the wrong colour.
It was all very disjointed. Spectators in the gallery were shocked and then nervously amused. They didn’t know what to make of it. Nor did I. It’s hard to make notes on incoherence.
Harold Usher was the only member to take issue with the motion. He is twice a cancer survivor. The relationship between smoking and cancer is no longer a theory, it’s a fact, he asserted. In the parks and at games he sees people smoking along the aisles. It’s a poor example for children. “We must do everything we can do to discourage them [from starting to smoke],” he cautioned.
An excellent interview by Pat Maloney of the London Free Press can be found here.
But the final vote was three to one in favour of a more cautious approach, limiting smoking in a nine meter distance from the play structures. It will be a by-law that will be hard to enforce and on which to educate people, according to the Health Unit which will be charged with that responsibility.
That won’t happen until the entire council has had an opportunity to debate and decide the matter next Tuesday. In the meantime, there is still an opportunity to contact your councillor and let him/her know what kind of place you want your park to be.