Butts on the ground: Smokers on Whyte and Jasper ignoring new 10-metre rule

Some say the new city rule requiring smokers to be 10 metres from doors, windows, patio and bus stops isn't working.

190 ashtrays were removed from city streets after bylaw change last October

Cigarette butts discarded on Whyte Avenue. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Four months after a city bylaw went into effect requiring smokers to be 10 metres away from doors, windows, patios and bus stops, some say the new rule isn't working.

Michael Coyne has been a bartender at O'Byrne's Irish Pub on Whyte Avenue for about a year.

"There is three times the amount of cigarette butts on the [avenue] now as there was when I first came here," Coyne told CBC News. "And that's just because there's no more ashtrays."

Smokers are currently required to be 10 metres away from doors, windows, patios and bus stops. Put into practise along Whyte Avenue, this approximation shows the area where smokers are (green) and aren't (red) allowed to light up. (CBC)

Many eating and drinking establishments along Whyte Avenue and Jasper Avenue are side-by-side, forcing patrons to walk farther distances to the nearest ashtray. Some throw their butts onto the ground or into garbage cans. 

In winter weather, Coyne notices that not many are making the trek across the street or down the road.

"Let's be honest, no one in their right mind is really going to do that," Coyne said.

190 fewer ashtrays

After months of debate, Edmonton city council voted 10-3 last September to amend the smoking bylaw, ahead of the legalization of cannabis. The new rules doubled the previous five-metre restriction.

On Oct. 17, the same day Canada legalized recreational pot, the city removed 190 ashtrays that no longer complied with the new 10-metre rule.

Of the remaining 500 ashtrays, 235 were relocated, city spokesperson Chrystal Coleman told CBC News.

Michael Coyne, a bartender at O'Byrne's Irish Pub on Whyte Avenue, points across the street to the closest public ashtray. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

More ashtrays were installed in entertainment districts around Whyte Avenue and Jasper Avenue, but a fair distance away from their previous locations in front of bars and restaurants.

The city relocated about 80 ashtrays from locations on Jasper Avenue and added about 20 more "on and just off" Jasper," Coleman said.

Whyte Avenue had 89 ashtrays before the 10-metre rule came into effect and now has 128 on-street ashtrays in places "mainly on the side streets just off Whyte Avenue," she said.

Measuring the distance


2 years ago
CBC reporter Natasha Riebe updates us on Edmonton’s 10-metre smoking bylaw. 1:45

Coyne noted that O'Byrne's has created a smoking spot in the back alley behind the pub.

"It puts people in a darker corner, where there's not so much to be seen and a lot more shady characters back there," he said. "It's not so good for the safety of our customers."

Council rules

Coun. Ben Henderson was among the councillors pushing to keep the previous five-metre rule, citing concerns from businesses along Whyte Avenue and downtown that suggested the bylaw could affect business.

"There was no need to change it," Henderson argued. "I think we made a problem that we didn't need to make over this, quite frankly, in the Whyte Avenue area."

However, Henderson acknowledged the point of a bylaw is not always to catch people breaking the rules but to have the authority to take action when needed.

"Some of these bylaws are about making sure that you have the ability to step in if people are bothering each other," he said. "If it's not a problem you don't try to make one."

On Jasper Avenue, a gaggle of patrons smoke outside the Urban Tavern at 116th Street. 

Matthew Handfield is a regular. 

"In January, I'm very close to the door," Handfield joked. "Most likely I'll take my step back but yeah, it's a rule. I'll follow it when someone enforces it." 

The Urban Tavern on Jasper provides two keg-ashtrays outside its doors, expecting smokers to be 10 metres away while they're smoking and butt out before going back in. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

He told CBC News he's been asked by bouncers and managers to move away from the door, but he's never seen a bylaw officer in the area.

Two kegs filled with sand and some cigarette butts flank the door of the tavern.

Marko Mastoras, a manager at Urban Tavern, blamed wayward butts and people ignoring the rules on alcohol consumption.

"After a certain point in the night, having the distance rule, it's maybe not very clear in people's minds. After midnight with a few drinks in them."

He noted that the kegs, at the end of the night, are full.

Matthew Handfield is a regular patron at Urban Tavern on Jasper Avenue and 116th Street. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

When it comes to cannabis, people were breaking the law before Oct. 17 legalization, Mastoras said. 

"There was always a fair amount of cannabis being used, you know, outside the bar," he said.

Henderson said cannabis has been a non-issue for him.

"I've heard nothing, I've really heard nothing."

The city will assess the impact of relocated ashtrays in the spring when the snow is gone. Henderson said council will likely revisit how effective the 10-metre rule has been and adjust accordingly.



Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.


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