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The Vancouver Park Board has voted unanimously to ban smoking in city parks and on all city beaches, including here at Kitsilano Beach where cigarette butts litter the sand.

laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

Vancouver is snuffing out virtually all outdoor public smoking, with the city's park board passing a bylaw that will ban cigarettes from any municipal park or beach.

It's the latest, and most dramatic, blow in Vancouver's war against tobacco - and when combined with existing laws barring smokers from patios, bus stops, entranceways, and air intakes means that legal public smoking spots will be a rarity.

Jack Boomer, director of the Clean Coalition of B.C., said the cumulative effect of the new measure, combined with other bans in Lower Mainland municipalities, will be a major strike against smoking.

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"The cumulative effect is it leads to saying smoking cannot be viewed as a normal activity," said Mr. Boomer, who made a presentation at the park board meeting where the motion was passed unanimously.

Smoking bans have already been imposed in workplaces and public spaces, and the park board previously banned cigarette sales from retail outlets such as concessions, golf courses, clubhouses and gift shops.

There are similar bans on outdoor smoking targeting parks, beaches, playgrounds and playing fields in effect in West Vancouver, White Rock and Richmond. Elsewhere, there are bans in place in Kelowna and Whistler.

As of Sept. 1, smokers at Vancouver's 200 parks and 18 kilometres of beaches face verbal warnings and eventual fines - though a park board member designated to speak on the issue yesterday said he did not know how much the fines would be.

To some observers, the idea of a ban is ridiculous. "We think it's unenforceable and unenforceable laws breed contempt for the law," said David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Mr. Eby was interviewed while among about 1,500 marijuana-use supporters on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of a national smoke-in to encourage the legalization of marijuana, and said there was an irony in the point.

He said if it is not possible to stop people from smoking marijuana, it's unlikely that it will be possible to stop them from smoking cigarettes.

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But Raj Hundal, a park board commissioner, said the board was going with the tide of public support for the idea, expressed in e-mails and calls before the meeting and at the meeting where the vote was held.

"I'm hearing over and over that it is a concern," Mr. Hundal said.

"People who came to speak at the meeting were evidence enough for me. I am not a medical professor. I am a commissioner listening to the sentiments of Vancouverites and they spoke very loud and clear."

Asked about fines, Mr. Hundal said there was no discussion of that issue.

"I will look at talking to staff and finding out," he said. "The amount of the fine was not mentioned in the [staff]report, nor was it asked about by the commissioners or by any member of the public."

A staff report on the issue, submitted to the board before its vote, noted that verbal warnings from city staff are usually enough to deal with compliance issues, and that enforcement is expected to occur in the same manner as other bylaws.

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Signs to announce the ban are also expected to help, says the report.

Dr. Stuart Kreisman, an endocrinologist at downtown St. Paul's Hospital, was among the parties who spoke for the ban. He said that whenever he is on a beach, he has to deal with smokers.

"I'll have to move on or go up to them and talk to them about it," he said. "Sometimes I get, `Oh sorry. I didn't realize' Other times, you get sworn at."

Dr. Kreisman said exposure to second-hand smoke is no less pernicious on a beach than indoors, and just as harmful to health.

"You're not allowed to be drinking on a beach. You're not allowed loud music on a beach. Dogs are banned. None of these things harm other people.

"Smoking does."

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The staff report to the park board raised another point, noting that the equipment used to clean beaches has trouble dealing with items the size of cigarette butts, forcing the time-consuming collection, by hand, of butts.

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