Halifax council refuses to exempt tobacco from smoking ban

Halifax regional council has voted down an amendment to its new smoking bylaw that would have distinguished tobacco from marijuana and allowed people to continue lighting up cigarettes on streets and sidewalks.

Bylaw will come into effect Oct. 1, a few weeks ahead of national marijuana legalization date

A smoker lights a cigarette in downtown Halifax in July. (CBC)

Halifax regional council has voted down an amendment to its new smoking bylaw that would have distinguished tobacco from marijuana and allowed people to continue lighting up cigarettes on streets and sidewalks.

The bylaw — which bans any kind of smoking or vaping on municipal properties — was adopted at the end of July. It will be put into place Oct. 1, a few weeks ahead of the national marijuana legalization date.

Sam Austin, councillor for Dartmouth Centre, proposed an amendment to pull tobacco from the bylaw and asked for a staff report on the matter, saying the rules would be unenforceable and didn't make sense.

"Sometimes when you're the first it's because you've had a boneheaded idea and I think we have overstepped," Austin told council on Tuesday.

The amendment was voted down Tuesday by a vote of eight to six.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn voted against changing the bylaw to exempt tobacco from the ban.

"I have no buyers remorse, whatsoever, on the decision that we made earlier this summer," she said. 

"This is not a ban, this is designating where certain activities can take place. You know, I really think that this is our path to healthy, livable cities and it starts with the restrictions on smoking."

Managers for the municipality are still working on a list of zones where smoking will be allowed — for example outside certain bars or homeless shelters — that they hope to have ready for when cannabis is legalized on Oct. 17.

Critics of the ban have included the head of the YWCA Halifax, who has worried that poor and homeless people will have few places to smoke cigarettes. Some bars and restaurants are also concerned their customers and staff won't be able to step outside and have a puff.

"If we have adequate designated smoking places, it's going to be better than having a mixture of rules on cannabis and cigarettes," said Halifax South Downtown Coun. Waye Mason.

With files from Pam Berman