A year into a new bylaw, only one-quarter of Hamilton smokers say they're stepping outside of public parks to light up. But public health officials say that’s a good start.

A recent survey shows that 24 per cent of smokers leave public parks to smoke, even though there’s been a bylaw in place since May 2012 that makes it illegal to smoke there. It’s inspired another 28 per cent to step farther away from other people when they smoke.

But that seemingly low number is actually a victory for the new anti-smoking bylaw, said Kevin McDonald, a manager with Hamilton Public Health Services. Smokers are stubborn, and it often takes years for them to comply.

Survey results - the new bylaw prohibiting smoking in public parks

  • 24 per cent of respondents smoke outside the park
  • 28 per cent smoke further away from others
  • 26 charges laid this year
  • 600+ warnings issued
  • 127 complaints in 52 locations
  • 71.6 per cent of Hamiltonians know the bylaw exists
  • 77 per cent of Hamilton smokers are aware of the bylaw

A small number of smokers still smoke on patios even though it’s forbidden, he said.

“People continue to smoke in the workplace — indoors and outdoors — under certain conditions,” he said. “There are a number of settings where you still see some noncompliance.”

The numbers show a change in attitude, McDonald said, and that’s a good start. When combined, they show that more than half of smokers are changing their behaviour because of the bylaw.

The first year of the bylaw was mostly educational, he said. Now, enforcement officers are ticketing.

Since May of this year, 26 people have been fined — $305 including surcharges — for smoking in public parks. As far as McDonald knows, none have been fought in court.

Bylaw officers have also issued more than 600 warnings in the past year. And there have been 127 complaint calls from 52 locations.

Timeline

February 2011: Motion passed to establish a bylaw

May 2012: Bylaw is implemented. The focus of the first year is education.

May 2013: Bylaw in "full effect." Enforcement officers start issuing tickets.

The survey shows that 71.6 per cent of Hamiltonians know the bylaw exists, and 77 per cent of smokers do.

In the past year, there has been less cigarette butt litter, said Dr. Ninh Tran, Hamilton’s associate medical officer of health. Public Health Services will also ramp up education efforts in 2014.

The survey showed increased support for a bylaw prohibiting smoking in public parks. More than 84 per cent of the respondents were non-smokers and 15.5 per cent were smokers.

McDonald and Tran presented a revised list of public parks included in the new bylaw at a board of health meeting Monday. But not every board member agreed with them.

Coun. Brenda Johnson of Ward 11, for example, objected to the inclusion of the Binbrook Park, where most of the property is owned by the Binbrook Agricultural Society. She felt it was encroaching on the rights of private property owners.

It also makes it confusing, she said.

“Someone watching their kid playing baseball could be on one side of the field and smoke, and someone on the other side could get fined.”

McDonald will present a revised list on Dec. 2.