The only butt on the beach should be yours.
That was the message from the province Thursday as it revealed plans to ban smoking at its 82 public beaches, including Grand Beach, and the dozens of playgrounds in its provincial parks by the summer of 2014.
"We don't think that our beautiful sand beaches should be park ashtrays," Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said. "We only want one kind of butt on our beaches."
During the first year of the ban, park officials will only hand out warnings to offenders, Mackintosh said. By 2015, offence notices will be issued carrying a fine of $299.
Manitoba is the first province in Canada to make its public beaches and playgrounds smoke-free in all of its parks. Some American states such as California and Hawaii have had smoke-free parks and beaches for years. Jurisdictions in other countries have also brought in similar rules.
Health officials welcomed the move, saying it's in keeping with the movement to curtail smoking in outdoor public places. Two years ago, the City of Winnipeg banned smoking at athletic fields, playgrounds and public pools.
Dr. Sande Harlos, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority medical officer of health, said besides the health benefit, such a ban changes social norms in that people quickly obey the law.
"The more environments that are smoke-free, the more that becomes the norm everywhere, the more that people are compliant," she said. "It also gives the moral suasion for the general public who might be troubled by the smoking, and might not have said anything before, they might feel more comfortable to let someone know it is against the law."
Besides protecting the health of non-smokers, the province and others say the other benefit is that there will be less garbage on beaches. By far the most common litter found on beaches, according to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, are cigarette butts. Tobacco packaging, wrapping and plastic cigar tips also litter beaches.
"Our beaches really deserve to left in a natural state so families can enjoy that without the waft of cigarette smoke, without the health impacts and finding a bunch of butts in the sand," Mackintosh said.
Healthy Living, Seniors and Consumer Affairs Minister Jim Rondeau said the ban is the natural extension of the province's role in lowering smoking rates. The province banned smoking in enclosed public places and indoor workplaces in October 2004. Winnipeg banned smoking in restaurants, bars, billiard halls, bingo halls and bowling alleys in July 2003.
"People understand what we're doing," Rondeau said. "People are respectful of the law. People get it. They get it on the basis of the own health and the health of their families."
He also said the prohibitions are paying off. A decade ago, 29 per cent of young people in Manitoba smoked. Current data show it's now less than 14 per cent.
"In 10 years that's a huge change," Rondeau said.
The province will move to restrict the sale of cigarettes in vending machines and pharmacies in May, Rondeau added.
Mackintosh said the idea for banning smoking came out of deliberations on its soon-to-be-released parks strategy, which will focus on promoting parks as places for exercise and healthier living. Included in that strategy will be options for expanding parks' smoke-free areas, such as public trails, picnic areas and public docks.
"It's part of a trend that is recognizing increasingly that outdoor smoking is a contributor to illness, disease and litter," he said.
Murray Gibson, of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance, said the ban on smoking on public beaches is common sense as it protects non-smokers from second-hand smoke.
"It's also good for smokers," Gibson said. "It discourages people from smoking. If we go to the beach to enjoy a good day, to get some exercise and some fresh air, those who smoke will be reminded that they can't smoke in those areas.
"What's encouraging here is to see our provincial government stepping forward and saying, 'We're going to do this for the benefit of all Manitobans,' " he said.
Where there's no cigarette smoke, there's online fire
A sampling of some of the comments on the proposed beach smoking ban culled from winnipegfreepress.com:
This is great to see but how will this be enforced? We have limited park officers already and now they will be smoke cops too?
This is truly scary. The NDP government's relentless behaviour to control people and their actions knows no bounds. ...The real issue is an out-of-control government which thinks it knows what is best for you and me.
-- GP in the GWN
I don't smoke and this ticks me off. Here we have yet another ban from the government...another law that infringes on our freedom of choice.
Now people can drive up to the beach in their SUV, sit there and suck back a double bacon cheeseburger and fries, while soaking up the UV rays and not have to worry about inhaling someone else's disgusting health habits! Way to go NDP! Now we won't need health care!
Either make it illegal or leave people alone. This is just nickel and dime crap.
Although I agree with the ban, it is the height of hypocrisy. Provincial and federal governments rely heavily on tobacco taxes to support their programs -- beaches and playgrounds being among those programs. If the governments feel that strongly about the evils of tobacco, then make it illegal.
-- Easter of Eden