To smoke or not to smoke? At one plaza in the Lower Lonsdale area of North Vancouver, the answer to this seemingly existential query may just depend on where smokers are looking. On one side is a clear no smoking sign with an exhortation to enjoy the fresh air but close by is a sign that tells smokers their choice to smoke or not smoke is a voluntary one. Even if the smokers saw both signs, most people would have little doubt which sign a smoker is more likely to follow.
Doubters could call Gary Charbonneau, a resident of West 1st street who seems to be waging a battle with the City of North Vancouver for the last few years on what seems like a commonly agreed upon goal of getting to stop people from lighting up on his street.
He says he has written several emails to the city and even spoke at a council meeting to get the city to remove the voluntary signs, but there has been little action in the last two years. The city needs to remove the voluntary signs right away, he says, and the . The council voted to ban smoking on the two plazas on West 1st street in 2015.
“City staff placed non-smoking signs in the plazas but also placed voluntary signs in the plaza confusing everyone and causing more people to smoke in the plazas because the public believes it’s voluntary. We have asked the City for two years to remove the voluntary signs from the plazas but they’re still there,” he says.
Charbonneau also wants the city to review the voluntary ban it implemented on West 1st street in 2016. He often sees people smoking on the street and the voluntary ban doesn’t seem to be having any impact. “Living across the John Braithwaite centre and witnessing seniors, expecting mothers and children inhale second-hand smoke is quite distressing.
Additionally, staff and visitors are continually subjected to smoke due to the automatic doors opening. While other municipalities have the courage to implement city wide bans in public areas, North Vancouver remains years behind and continues to watch others lead while they follow,” he says.
Fed up of inhaling second-hand smoke, Charbonneau claims he had 700 people sign a petition asking the city to ban smoking on the street in 2015. The council at that time agreed to ban smoking on the two plazas on West 1st street, even though Charbonneau says it was his understanding the ban extended to the entire street and not just to the plazas.
While the city staff had reservations about specifically banning smoking in one particular area, they worked with Charbonneau and agreed to a voluntary ban on smoking in the 100 block of West 1st street in 2016. But that ban hasn’t worked at all, Charbonneau says, and he would like the council to regulate smoking and make it a bylaw offence.
The ban may not be as easy to enforce by the staff, says at least one business owner who often deals with smokers casually disregarding the smoking ban in the plaza. Agathe Mathieu is the owner of Tao Organics Café on Roberts Plaza. The plaza is on the south side of West 1st street and has great views of the city, which also makes it a tempting place for people to relax and smoke away their worries.
Mathieu says there are signs asking people not to smoke, but they are not always heeded. When she tells people they are not allowed to smoke there, it’s not a given they will extinguish. “They will tell me ‘I will go when I am done’. It’s like only 20 per cent of people will apologise and stop smoking. They feel their rights have been taken over by non-smokers, and people who wish to smoke are really not as respectful when they are told they can’t smoke here,” she said.
Even though she would like to see smokers heed the signs, she isn’t sure the city has the ability to continuously monitor the plaza and fine smokers. “It will be a tricky one to stop people from smoking here.” CNV media spokesperson Connie Rabold said the city is reviewing the signage and will be making changes.