Smoke-free entrances becoming the norm

New Toronto bylaw looks to create smoke-free buffer zones at public buildings entrances
Monday, December 9, 2013
By Leah Wong

Toronto city council is in the process of creating new smoking legislation that would further limit the public locations where smoking is permitted.

One of the new provisions, which city staff expects will pass at the December 16 council meeting, would ban smoking within nine metres of all public building entrances. It would also require buildings owners and managers to post signs, move ashtrays away from entrances, and enforce the ban.

“These are buildings to which the public and employees generally have access to all or part of the premises,” says Rich Whate, health promotion consultant for Toronto Public Health (TPH).

Buildings included under this provision may include municipal buildings, offices and shopping centres. Apartments and condominiums with a lobby, foyer or common area that is accessible to the public would also be included.

If passed, Toronto will join a number of municipalities that have enacted similar rules. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island all have created different legislation to create smoke-free entrances to all public places and workplaces.

Smokers in Alberta must stay five metres away from entrances, while British Columbia has a three-metre law. Ontario has no provincial rules, but a number of municipalities have already created nine-metre buffer zones.

A study by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit titled Not just ‘a few wisps’: real-time measurement of tobacco smoke at entrances to office buildings showed that there were two-and-a-half times more fine particles at building entrances when smoking was permitted within nine metres compared to where there were no smokers.

Pamela Kaufman, assistant professor with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit at the University of Toronto and co-author of the study, says that nine metres provides an ample buffer zone, as smoke dissipates at that range. She says that the highest levels of exposure are within two and four metres.

The study looked at voluntary policies put into place by building managers, which included visible signage and the simple act of moving ashtrays away from doorways.

“When ashtrays are moved away from the building, people get the message to butt out away from the building,” Kaufman says. “It also sends the signal that smoking shouldn’t be done here.”

Many building managers in Toronto already have voluntary measures in place to create a buffer zone around entranceways. For these buildings, there will be little operational change if the bylaw passes.

“For other buildings, Toronto Public Health will communicate with them to ensure requirements and enforcement are clear,” Whate says. Though TPH tobacco enforcement officers will have the discretion to issue a ticket for non-compliance if the bylaw goes into effect, Whate says that TPH is prioritizing educating building managers and the public to give people time to adjust.

“Experience suggests that most people voluntarily comply and will move away from doors to smoke,” Whate says. “In most cases, TPH enforcement staff will take an education approach to enforcing the bylaw, and request anyone smoking within 9 metres to step further away if they wish to smoke.”

Public support for similar bylaws in Ontario is high, according to the 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Monitor Survey. Eighty-nine per cent of Ontarians supported smoke-free building entrances.

“It might seem overwhelming to building managers at first, but overtime it becomes the norm,” Kaufman says.

Leah Wong is the online editor of Canadian Property Management and Building Strategies & Sustainability magazines. 

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