Revelstoke council smoking restriction retreat a failure to connect on populist issue

On close inspection, new Revelstoke smoking restrictions change very little and discourage those who seek change through local government

They call it ‘eat your vegetables’ journalism. It’s things like dutiful reporting of sewer rate changes, or a summing up the city’s annual accounts. The thing is, few give a darn about these stories. Just go count your clicks and it’s plain to see few are interested in these important, sober but hopelessly dull topics.

And then comes along one of those issues that does connect with everyday residents, like moving forward with another phased restriction on smoking in public areas. Will council connect, or whiff it?

In this case, the latter.

The fact is a smoking ban isn’t a glamour issue for a politician. It’s a messy, divisive no-win that can be cancerous to a political career. Best avoided.

For city planners, or even the CAO, a smoking bylaw isn’t a showpiece project that you can put on your resume – hence the staff report on the bylaw was signed by an administrative assistant.

What started out a year ago as an initiative from a volunteer committee designed to improve our community’s health is shaping up to be a drive to post more signs and install more ashtrays, with a few window-dressing changes that will have little effect on the ground.

Where are the world’s best practices? Where is the evidence that someone on council, its committees or in city hall actually did some research to find out the best way of implementing a progressive, effective, and efficient restriction system that contributes to the cessation of smoking rates in our community and safeguards the health of non-smokers (and smokers)?

How about implementing a system that doesn’t constantly reinforce to children that smoking is is a relaxing, enjoyable habit that adults enjoy when they’re relaxing in a park or on a patio?

The mayor tells me it’s a common-sense matter. Smokers should have the decency to know they shouldn’t smoke on a children’s playground, for example. Fair enough, but that’s one of the few new restrictions proposed. And let’s not forget it wasn’t long ago that responsible, well-meaning parents would smoke at home in front of their children – in my lifetime, as I recall clearly through a smoky haze.

Bylaws, multiple readings and the committee system is our accepted system for creating checks and balances. But the bureaucracy can also be easily manipulated to be an obstructionist tool that thwarts the will of those who seek change. That’s been the result here: a year of foot-dragging and dawdling, ending in a bylaw that nobody’s willing to put their name on.

New ashtrays are one of the outcomes of this bylaw. The city even proposes putting “butt mate” ashtrays near trailheads at city parks. An online search to figure out what exactly those are was fruitless (and downright shocking if you don’t watch what you’re clicking.) Are they those smouldering-cigarette-butt-fire-in-a-metal-cans currently posted near doorways at city facilities? Like the ones at the rec centre that draw smoke into the building where children recreate?

Revelstoke, fortunately, has a relatively sophisticated political culture at the municipal level. City hall is in the midst of many complex, forward-thinking initiatives that require a lot of expertise, knowledge and progressive mindedness. Unfortunately, a lot of these initiatives are of the ‘eat your vegetables’ variety.

What we as an aging community need is to attract, recruit and cultivate more young people willing to get involved in civic affairs. If council passes up opportunities to connect on issues that matter to residents, they’ll earn a reputation – fairly or not – for being part of the problem, not the solution.

City council ignores these populist issues at their own peril because these are precisely the issues that voters connect with.

More ashtrays – that’s not what voters support.

This bylaw is at third reading. It’s not too late to do it right.