Our Cowichan urges region-wide smoking reduction strategy

An air-shed protection strategy that includes tobacco, e-cigarettes and marijuana smoke is being sought for the Cowichan Valley.

An air-shed protection strategy that includes tobacco, e-cigarettes and marijuana smoke is being sought for the Cowichan Valley.

In a presentation to the Municipality of North Cowichan on Oct. 19, Cindy Lise, from the Our Cowichan Communities Health Network, asked council to participate in a comprehensive regional strategy to reduce smoking, and the impact of second-hand smoke, in the region.

The Our Cowichan network is made up of local health organizations, non-profit societies, volunteer groups and government representatives who work together to attain the highest possible level of health and wellbeing in the region.

Lise told council that Valley residents experience higher incidences of tobacco-related deaths, lung cancer, asthma and respiratory illnesses that are directly related to smoking and air pollution than many other parts of the Island.

Lise said the Cowichan Regional Airshed Strategy is currently working with partners in the community to address open burning and pollution, and Our Cowichan believes the same kind of collaboration is required to address the smoking of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and marijuana if it becomes legal in Canada.

She said the current smoking bylaws in the different jurisdictions in the region are not aligned and, in some cases, are non-existent.

“We are asking for a task group of representatives from each of our local governments to come together with Our Cowichan, Island Health and community partners to tackle how we can align bylaws and partner on a regional antismoking strategy,” Lise said.

“It’s hoped that by working together, we can have a significant impact on reducing the number of people smoking and the significant costs to our communities and health care.”

Coun. Al Siebring said the biggest problem with establishing comprehensive bylaws to deal with smoking in public places is enforcement.

“By the time a bylaw officer gets to a scene in response to a complaint, the smoker is long gone,” he said.

“I’m hesitant to develop bylaws like this if we can’t back them up properly with enforcement.”

Coun. Maeve Maguire said she’s surprised that the issue is a priority.

She said that after the last 20 years of intensive antismoking initiatives and education, it’s rare for her to meet someone who smokes.

“I would find it hard to support using our staff’s time to do something that I think we’ve already made progress in,” Maguire said.

Lise responded that with more than 500,000 people still smoking in the province, with many of those in the Valley, “it’s not a small issue.”

Coun. Joyce Behnsen said some smoking bylaws are already in place in North Cowichan and other local jurisdictions, and she doesn’t believe it would take much staff time to “get the wording right” to make them consistent across the Valley.

“We have five different local governments in the Valley and many people don’t know the rules around smoking when they are in each of them,” Behnsen said.

“I think some consistencies in each area’s bylaws are needed.”

Coun. Kate Marsh volunteered to represent North Cowichan on the task group if the municipality decides to participate.