Edmonton council passes tighter smoking rules as cannabis legalization looms

City council voted to tighten bylaw restrictions on smoking Tuesday.

Smokers to stay 10 metres away from buildings and bus stops under amended bylaw

Edmonton city council passed a bylaw on Tuesday tightening the restrictions on where people can smoke cannabis and tobacco in public spaces. (CBC)

Edmonton city council voted to tighten restrictions on smoking Tuesday.

Tobacco and cannabis smokers will have to stay 10 metres away from building doors, windows, patios and bus stops under the amended bylaw. The new rules, which double the previous five-metre restriction, will come into force the day cannabis is legalized, Oct. 17.

"There's no perfect answer to this. There's just the best we can come up with at the time based on all the conflicting perspectives and input," said Mayor Don Iveson, after voting in favour of the bylaw that passed by a 10-3 margin.  

"Bottom line, we have a very straightforward bylaw that's harmonized between tobacco and cannabis."

The bylaw will also ban smoking on parkland, including playgrounds, sports fields and dog parks.

Mayor Don Iveson said he continues to put pressure on the provincial government to resolve questions around cost-sharing legal cannabis tax revenue. (CBC)

Councillors approved the same amendments to the city's public places bylaw on July 10. The decision was reversed the next day, after Iveson suggested the public should have an opportunity to weigh in on the stricter rules.

City administration was then directed to survey the public and some business owners.

Nearly 70 per cent of the public respondents supported increasing the smoking restrictions from five to 10 metres. Business owners surveyed in three business improvement areas — Old Strathcona, downtown and 124th Street — were more divided, with a narrow majority in favour of the increase.

"People smoking near our doors is already an issue," wrote one business owner in the survey. "I am concerned about second-hand smoke impacting vulnerable staff and customers."

The comments from business owners against the tighter restrictions suggested the bylaw would effectively ban smoking for several blocks in those areas. They suggested the new rules could also force people into alleyways and make it difficult for staff to identify who's coming in and out of a bar or club.  

Coun. Ben Henderson brought a motion to keep the restriction at five metres, suggesting the city may be solving a problem that doesn't exist, given the lack of complaints about the current restrictions.

"I think there's some really significant unintended consequences of this," Henderson said.

"When in actual fact the existing distance, if it's properly adhered to, does what we're intending to do, which is protect the non-smoker from the smoker."

I think there's some really significant unintended consequences of this.- Coun. Ben Henderson

The motion failed by a single vote, with the mayor and five councillors voting in favour, and seven councillors voting against leaving the five-metre restriction in place.

Coun. Michael Walters was in favour of the 10-metre rule, noting that council will have an opportunity to review the bylaw in early 2019 and make further amendments as needed.

"Time and time again, the public has been very clear with us that they want us to go as far as possible," Walters said during the meeting.

Coun. Michael Walters said the bylaw reflects the public's demand to have stricter smoking regulations. (CBC)

The city says it will need at least eight more full-time peace officers to enforce the amended bylaw, contributing to the roughly $4 million the city estimates it will spend annually to cover the costs of legal cannabis.

The provincial government has yet to provide financial support to municipalities for those expenses.

"That needs to get resolved because we're already incurring costs. Property taxpayers are already on the hook," Iveson said.