Sunday, 5 September 2010

Be Afraid, be Very Afraid. Vancouver Takes Things to the Next Level

Vancouver isn't the first to pass outdoor smoking bans. Nova Scotia has one, Halifax has one, and parts of California have them - although some of those have ditched all pretence and openly admitted 'hey, we just don't wanna see smokers, ok?' How they get away with that I don't know. Actually I do, it's because it's against smokers, not protected minorities. So everyone reading this, if you want to make a quick buck, influence politics and get your name in the news without any fear of repurcussions, jump on the anti-smoking bandwagon. Everyone else, well done, you still have your integrity.

Outdoor bans are slowly creeping through. Calgary has a bylaw that states smoking by doorways isn't allowed. I'm not actually too against that, provided the distance you have to be isn't stupid. It can be intimidating to walk through a crowd of people, and, fair enough, the smoke can be irritating to some. But let's not get the cart before the horse on this - if smokers hadn't been kicked out in the first place, they wouldn't be crowding doorways. It's nonsensical to all of a sudden proclaim 'well now we can't get to the door without breathing toxic smoke!' because if you'd been a little tolerant and sensible in the first place, smokers would peacefully enjoy their tobacco in a separate room, or a ventilated communal room, indoors. So excuse them while they brave the weather huddled together in the only place there's shelter - the overhang above the door. OK? OK. So while I can understand the argument against smokers gathering in doorways, I'm not at all in favour of 'shunting them further down that way'. No, treat them like human beings, put a roof over their head while they enjoy their legal product that they bought and paid for, and we'll all be happy. In the UK, the tax from tobacco provides about a quarter of the health services, so no one can afford to lose sight of the true cost of penalising smokers to such an extent.

What's this post about? The Vancourier has released an article explaining how nauseatingly low the anti-smoking campaign has got there:

It's official. Vancouver is a no-smoking zone. Butt them out on your shoe and fall in line.

A new bylaw takes effect today--in every Vancouver park (all 224 of them) and beach (except for Wreck) and along the entire seawall, smoking is prohibited. Anyone caught smoking will be fined up to $2,000.

Pretty sweeping huh? The anti-smoking lobby must have worked really hard to pull that one off. Actually, no. What makes this story even worse is the staggering fact that a handful of people have this sort of power:
This new bylaw, which outlaws a legal activity in a city of 570,000, was crafted and enacted solely by the seven-member park board--an entity few Vancouverites know anything about.

Wow. Seven people, controlling 570,000. As most Vancouverites don't know the board even exists, presumably they're an unelected body, so what right do they actually have to pull this off? Probably none. As for the reasoning behind this insanity (brace yourself):
According to [park board commissioner, Aaron] Jasper, the park board heard from "health care professionals" who claim secondhand smoke--even on a breezy beach--represents a health hazard. He noted the "environmental impact" of cigarette butts, and most bizarrely, went all Smokey the Bear on us. "Forest fires," said Jasper, "are a grave concern."

Forest fires? In Vancouver? Have there been any forest fires in Vancouver lately? Like since 1886?

"Well, this year there has been nothing I've been made aware of."

Got that? Picked yourself up from the floor?
Secondhand smoke, which poses no threat indoors, is now a health concern now only outdoors, but along the coast with a strong sea breeze that barely lets you keep your hair and clothes. The serial killer of smoke can easily withstand such a gust of air though, and still find victims. I'd love to know who these "health care professionals" are that he's been talking to.
Environmental issues of cigarette butts? Um, Jasper? There's these things called bins, and people, well, put things in them that they are done using. And most of them have these other things called ashtrays on the top of them, used for, well, putting cigarettes in. These 'bins' and 'ashtrays' actually stop the cigarette butts winding up on the floor and thus remove the 'environmental issue' of discarded butts. Now you're up to speed, can you review this policy?
Forest fires in Vancouver... I'm not even going to bother touching that one.

The bylaw gets worse, by the way (not that you expected anything less, no doubt):

Penalties not only apply to smokers but smoking accomplices. For example, if you light a cigarette for your 83-year-old grandfather who stormed the beach at Normandy but now resides in a wheelchair with limited use of his trembling hands, you can be fined up to $2,000.

And if, despite permission from the driver, you light up inside a taxi that happens to be on park board land, you're subject to punishment. Up to $2,000 worth.

This is actually quite tragic. Many members of the elderly generation enjoy nothing more than sitting on the coast, and many enjoy their pipes, cigars or cigarettes too. But they can't do this, they have to remove themselves from the beach, smoke somewhere else, then totter back. This is inconvenient for everyone, but when we're talking about a demographic of people which has a large number of wheelchair users or people generally unsteady on their feet, it's disgraceful. They're probably wondering what liberties they actually fought for back in the day. But, they're also the one generation in society you can depend on to not give a damn and continue regardless, and thank God someone is doing that, because the 'rebellious youths' are nowhere to be seen.

But of course, this is done for our own good:

"This isn't about punishing people, it's about educating people," said Jasper. "Your personal habits are your personal habits and as long as they're not infringing on the peace and enjoyment of others and the health of others, continue whatever you're doing. It's not my place to tell people what they should do."

It never ceases to amaze me, truly. Smokers can't infringe on the rights of others, yet, as a legal product, smokers do have the right to smoke tobacco, so these rules and bylaws are affecting their own rights and freedoms. And as we all know, smoking on the beach or park isn't affecting the health of anyone else, much less their enjoyment - and peace, peace?! I have no idea what he even means. The only way smoking disturbs the peace is when one of those omnipresent self-righteous fuckwits creates a scene by taking it upon themselves to cleanse the population, leaving it devoid of smokers. Smokers are pretty content and quiet when they're puffing. Tobacco has that effect, you see.

"Our job is to make sure that everyone can have enjoyment of our parks and public spaces."

Except smokers.

If this was a TV drama, I'd be enthralled, anxiously waiting for next week's installment to find out what unbelievable plan will be unveiled next. But somehow, unbelievably, this is real. We can't decide whether burkhas should be allowed in schools because we don't want to offend anyone, but there's not even a second thought to treating smokers like second-rate citizens. It's like selling kids ice-cream and saying 'oh, but you can't consume it. No, it'll kill you. Use it as an ornament, or go way out into the woods where no one can see you'.

I might just go live in the mountains.


  1. There's nothing to be said is there?

    It's exactly like a nightmare only I'm not waking up from it.

    Since the war on smokers is so full fledged I guess next up will be overweight folks.

    I wonder if they will have special places they can eat where polite people won't have to watch an overweight person eat.

    After all I am sure some study can be done showing that watching an overweight person eat leads to more cases of people becoming overweight.

    It's so important to be a healthy society that we have lost sight of the idea that all people own their own bodies and have the right to decide how to live in them.

  2. Rich,

    I might like to go live up in the Mountains too...or the desert. All of this stress imposed upon us by the anti-smoking movement is bad for our health AND for our spirit. Imagine that? ...Living your life in PEACE.

  3. Sad and amazing... as so much of the news in this area is. :/

    Ten years ago Regina Carlson of NJ GASP argued that beach smoking needed to be banned because of the fire hazard as well. Yep. Ten billion tons of sand next to ten trillion tons of water -- definitely a fire just waiting to happen.

    We need to remember: these people are pretty much clinically insane.

    I wonder if there's any appeal/public-debate going on in a venue that would allow arguing their health risk claim. Shooting that down would make shooting fish in a barrel look hard.

    Michael J. McFadden