Parks, playgrounds, markets and festivals are common places for everyone to access and enjoy. They are important spaces for children to participate in healthy and enjoyable outdoor activities. These spaces belong to everyone and everyone has the right to enjoy them safely.
The Canadian Cancer Society believes that outdoor smoking, particularly where youth congregate, is detrimental to human health and to the health of the environment. Outdoor smoking perpetuates smoking as a social norm, contributes to second-hand tobacco smoke exposure, and has a negative impact on the environment with respect to smoking-related litter.
Exposure to outdoor tobacco smoke
Scientific evidence indicates that exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke outdoors poses a health risk. Smoke does not quickly dissipate.
Tobacco smoke pollution outdoors is determined by the density and distribution of smokers, wind velocity (direction and speed), and the stability of the atmosphere. High smoker density, low wind velocities, and stable atmospheric conditions produce high second-hand smoke concentrations that can equal levels found indoors. Being within a few feet of a smoker outdoors may expose you to second-hand smoke levels equal to those measured in homes and bars where smoking is allowed. When there is a breeze, cigarette smoke will spread in various directions, and will expose non-smokers downwind.
Scientific support for outdoor bans is based on evidence including the 2006 Surgeon General's Report and the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board Report declaring second-hand smoke to be a Toxic Air Contaminant. Generally the smoke from a single cigarette can be detected between 7-10 metres away. This measurement easily encompasses the distance between people at a crowded beach, park, playground and outdoor public events.
Outdoor smoking and the environment
Over 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered worldwide each year and are the most littered item in the world. The Great Canadian Shore Cleanup reports that in 2011, tobacco related litter accounted for 46.6% of all litter collected.
Composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, cigarette butts do not biodegrade; they only break down into smaller components. In other words, old cigarette butts never truly vanish, making them an increasing and ongoing threat to the health and natural beauty of our parks and beaches.
Positive health messaging
Smoking restrictions influence change in social norms regarding the acceptability of tobacco use. Smoke-free polices help challenge the perception that tobacco use is normal adult behaviour.
Limiting youth exposure to tobacco use reinforces the message that smoking is not normal and decreases the likelihood that youth will initiate tobacco use. Since the majority of smokers start before the age of 18, this measure may support reductions in youth uptake of tobacco use and improve overall public health.
In Alberta, the most recent survey indicates that 69% of Albertans and 70% of Alberta decision makers support a ban on smoking in all public outdoor spaces.
The Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) supports restricting smoking in select outdoor areas. In 2010, ARPA passed a resolution in support for policy measures that create smoke-free parks and playgrounds in Alberta.
Smoke-free outdoor spaces in Canada
In Alberta, St Albert and Devon require all outdoor public events to be smoke-free. Lethbridge banned smoking within all playground property. Calgary has prohibited smoking in Olympic Plaza Park and is currently considering expanding the bylaw to include outdoor recreation areas. The cities of Edmonton, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, and Grande Prairie have the most comprehensive bylaws prohibiting smoking around playgrounds, skating rinks, skate parks, water spray parks and sports fields.
Across Canada, more than 50 municipalities have banned smoking in outdoor locations and about one-quarter of these communities have comprehensive bans that include parks, playgrounds and recreation fields.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that municipalities pass a bylaw to restrict smoking in select outdoor areas, particularly where children and youth congregate. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends the following three-year phase-in period for a bylaw:
- Year 1: Youth-oriented outdoor areas (playgrounds, sports fields, pools, rinks, and other outdoor recreation facilities)
- Year 2: Outdoor areas frequented by youth (fairs, markets, festivals, concerts, attractions)
- Year 3: Outdoor areas accessible to youth (parks, trails, recreation areas, green spaces)
Help keep Alberta’s kids tobacco-free for life. Ask your city councillor to support a bylaw that protects our kids from second-hand smoke in select outdoor spaces.