Butt Out


By John Swartz

If you knew the right to enjoy life as one sees fit, with no negative outcome for anyone else, was being trampled by government, what would you do? What would you do if it was one fifth of the population being ostracized? What if the shoe was on the other foot and you were a member of that one fifth demographic?

Most people do nothing because, “it doesn’t affect me.” Yes, too often people don’t care about government overstepping when it’s happening to someone else. As we are witnessing daily thanks to our cousins below the 49th, one small overstep can lead, and often leads, to another small overstep and next thing you know you are the target.

This Orillia City Council (and the last by virtue of 7 members being the same) have much to be proud of for what they have done for this city. One great example was in June 2016 when they rejected a smoking ban on City property. It was the right thing to do, though not all voted against for the right reasons.

Here we are in 2019 and council is about to forget who they serve. Is it all of us, or just some of us? Monday night they will confirm a vote to ban smoking on all City owned property. That includes parkland, the Orillia City Centre, public library, trails, all City-owned properties leased to a third party including the properties located at 70 Front Street North and 2 Hunter Valley Road and parking lots. Parking lots?

They are doing it because it’s the only way they can restrict marijuana smoking. Never mind the federal government legalized the use of marijuana, and the province said they’re fine with it in any place cigarette smoking is allowed. They have a tool to subvert legalization to a small extent, and like carpenters with one tool, they are going to exercise the little hammer they have.

I ask you, what harm is smoking a cigarette in a parking lot doing to anyone?

Before you answer, you need to know it has been proven smoke from the other end of a burning cigarette is not measurable at a distance of 2 meters. When scientists do a study, they take measurements before the thing they are testing happens, and during and after. Measurements of secondhand smoke in outdoor settings have found samples at a distance of 2 meters or more are no different than the background samples.

So, your logical answer to the above question should be none, because it is none. That answer also works for when you are sitting on a park bench, three park benches upwind from someone smoking – there is no harm; so some people can stop trying out for an Oscar for ‘best hacking cough and throwing shade in a park setting when arriving after the smoker and there’s only two of you in the whole park’ (has actually happened) and mind your own business.

Back in 2016 I pointed out to several councillors and staff the report relied on data from indoor secondhand smoke studies. Those have proved secondhand smoke is harmful and no one who rubs brain cells together is going argue against the point (wish we could same the same for climate change). But you can’t transfer the data, outcome or analysis to a totally different setting. If you are in the camp that believes you can, why are you indoors right now instead of spending all your time outdoors? Because it’s different; it’s not the same thing at all. It’s bloody cold out there in pajamas right now.

“Once we leave the firm ground of science, we could be viewed as zealots — fanatics trying to eliminate smoking anywhere and everywhere,” said Dr. Michael Siegel in a National Post story on the subject of banning smoking outdoors. He also said “there is no evidence that fleeting second-hand exposure in an open space is significantly harmful.”

Who the heck is Siegel? He’s a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and his testimony weighed significantly in a groundbreaking lawsuit against the tobacco industry in the U.S. resulting in a $145 billion dollar judgment against tobacco companies. He’s lent his voice to all kinds of successful legislative efforts to ban smoking in restaurants, bars, casinos and children’s playgrounds. He’s not exactly a friend to smokers, but at least he’s aware of where the science stops and the trampling of the rights of people not doing any harm starts. When someone of his qualification says the argument is invalid, you’d think politicians would listen.

The problem is there are too many other studies that mix conditions or data, taking a leap in logic to claim evidence outdoor secondhand smoke is harmful. It’s interesting there are studies citing another debunked California study concluding secondhand smoke outdoors is significant, and then conclude the same thing. It’s no different than believing an NRA study saying guns are safe when we know at face value that’s not true, but when there’s an axe to grind.

And it is trampling, of a petty kind. No longer will smokers be able to enjoy a smoke while sitting on a park bench enjoying the sound of water lapping against the boardwalk at the Port of Orillia at midnight. No longer will smokers be able to enjoy the music at the Mariposa Folk Festival from the back of the pub stage area where no one but smokers (and those who don’t care about someone else smoking) hang out, or even from the parking lot. No longer will employees at the Metro store, the Hock Shop, Nordia, the license bureau – or the poor guy waiting for his other half to finish up the shopping – get to take a smoke break because the City owns all those places. If the ability was there, some members of council would deem it OK smokers didn’t go downtown any longer.

During the discussion on what to do about employees of those places, brief as it was before dismissing it, there was mention of finding piles of cigarette butts in places. Here’s a hint, maybe that’s where a garbage can or butt receptacle should be. We do it for all the other litterers when garbage is observed to be piling up in specific places, but oh no, with cigarettes it’s ‘all’ those lazy smokers. Pop and coffee drinkers and fast food eaters get a pass because a garbage can will soon be placed in those spots.

It’s disappointing this council thinks so little of 6,200 of its residents and finds it so easy to make second class citizens of them – that’s how many smokers there are in Orillia. It’s disappointing some councillors ignore the scientific data or use the wrong data, especially when it’s pointed out to them. It’s disappointing they would even try to go against the will of the country (remember a major tipping point for changing the Canadian government was marijuana legalization) they would go so far as to use an unrelated tool, cigarette smoking, to protect the children (yes that argument was used) from the evils of a marijuana joint.

Adding insult to injury the fine is going to be $150 (first offense) – for doing something that is otherwise completely legal. At least Jay Fallis thought that was too much, but he failed to find a seconder to lower the amount. Nobody cared about the egregious amount, which if there has to be a fine should be more in the neighbourhood of overstaying at a parking meter with an out-of-tune, diesel powered Volkswagen.

Not insulting enough? They are going to use the $36,000 the province sent to ease additional costs of marijuana enforcement to hire a part-time by-law officer – to police the smoking ban! They can do that because marijuana is wrapped up in it. You know the by-law officer isn’t going to wait by the phone for a complaint. No, he/she will sneak up on you at the end of the pier at Centennial Park at 11 p.m., or catch you puffing on the trek in from the back of the parking lot before heading in to work, and watch out for more than bears at Scout Valley.

What is also disappointing is the debate last Monday relied on information and answers to questions from the manager of legislative services (by-law officers) and there was no one at the table to provide countering information (not the same thing as alternative facts). So when asked if $150 was too high, what do you think the cop said? What do you think the answers were like about the correctness of a ban? Let’s ask our carpenter how to get a stuck lid off a jar shall we. It’s not the manager gave wrong information, or intentionally gave wrong information, he did what he was asked to do to put the report together, but he does have a one-sided point of view.

As Tim Lauer said after the meeting (he was the only councilor to vote no) the ban was brought to council in too much haste and was not well thought out. He also said everyone loves to have the money smokers pay in taxes, while at the same time pushing them further to the edge of society.

Smokers are not evil people. The overwhelming majority of those left with the habit smoke away from the others, take care of their butts, don’t smoke around children. Most smokers have learned to respect others don’t necessarily want to be too close to cigarette smoke. It would be nice, unusual, but nice, if respect was a two way street, but many non-smokers have demonstrated by their actions their self-righteous attitudes (which former smokers should be ashamed of) toward other people who don’t do everything exactly as they themselves do.

Many readers know this writer is a smoker. I thought enough time passed since last Monday’s meeting to write dispassionately, but I find myself getting angry again at the callous disregard being shown. This is only one step. Your future involves municipal governments inserting themselves, with the help of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (the same folks who won’t let you order a medium hamburger anymore), into your bedrooms, smokers, to ban smoking in apartments and condominiums or even regular type homes.

First it was the bars non-smokers went to, then it was the patios smokers got pushed onto, they failed with the next frontier – sidewalks – for now. It’s possible they won’t stop until it’s actually a criminal offence. Then they’ll find some other thing to regulate and it will be some other group’s turn to be angry – and some of those will be people who are right now saying, “sucks to be you.” Will smokers have your back? Of course, we know what it’s like to be unfairly targeted.

We saw the same kind of action on the taxi driver licensing issue – doing because you can, not because you should; using emotional response instead of evidence. Social engineering is not the strong suit of local government, definitely not a way to govern, but It’s the nature of government to sometimes go where they shouldn’t and I suppose it’s ours to sit idly by and let it happen.

Rants & Raves

(Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya – Pexels)

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