Breaking Bylaws: The deal on smoking cigarettes in Toronto

Breaking Bylaws: The deal on smoking cigarettes in Toronto
By Melissa Wilson
OpenFile Toronto (OpenBlog)
July 3, 2012

Toronto’s smokers might feel vindicated to learn that, according to Chapter 709 of the City of Toronto Municipal Code, smoking cigarettes inside is allowed in certain circumstances, such as inside a bowling alley, a pool hall, a casino or a bingo hall.

But not so fast, Sparky. Chapter 709 was written in 2003, and while still technically on the books, it predates the 2006 Smoke-Free Ontario Act, and provincial legislation trumps municipal bylaws every time.

According to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, it is, in fact, illegal to smoke cigarettes indoors just about everywhere except your own house, and there are specific provisions that ban smoking on any elementary or high school property (including the parking lot) and within nine metres of the entrance of a health care institution.

The SFOA is pretty straight-forward, but the perception of the rules of where one can and cannot smoke in public are still pretty foggy, because Jim Chan, a manager with Toronto Public Health, says he gets calls about it all the time.

“People will call in and say, ‘This guy’s smoking in front of my building! Can you come and charge him?’” says Chan. “And no, sorry. We can’t.”

But you can take the law into your own hands, in a manner of speaking. “A private property owner or manager can develop their own restrictions or policies, because its their own private property,” says Chan. “So they can post a sign saying ‘No smoking within nine metres.’ It’s not enforced by a tobacco enforcement officer, but the property owner could enforce it.”

It would be similar to policies that prevent loitering in a shopping mall, because even public space is only so public. Similarly, though considered private private property, the TTC also has its own bylaw against smoking, which reads: “No person shall smoke in or on TTC property or carry a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, other tobacco product, or any other lighted smoking equipment or material while in or on TTC property”

So next time you see someone light up a cigarette while waiting for a bus, you actually can throw a fit rather than just glare at them menacingly and cough loudly.

Even though the City’s rules technically fall under provincial jurisdiction, it’s still the City’s bylaw officers that enforce them and issue tickets. The fine for anyone caught smoking in an inappropriate place is about $365, and this includes any minors caught smoking on school property, so it’s probably enough to scare the bejeesus out of them for good. The fine for any establishments caught breaking the SFOA (like selling to minors, or failing to put up appropriate signage) is similar, but can vary wildly at the officer’s discretion. Alternatively, the bylaw officer can just issue a formal charge, and then the vendor will have the penalty set by a judge, to a maximum of $50,000.

Any establishments caught breaking the SFOA also get publicly shamed on the City’s website, which lists the names of any businesses convicted in the last two years. Charges range from a few hundred bucks to $10,000 for one repeat offender. In 2010 and 2011 combined, the City issued over $75,000 in charges against businesses that violated the SFOA.

Despite the seriousness with which the City treats the issue, it’s still not terribly uncommon to see people smoking in prohibited areas around the City, and it doesn’t seem likely that that will change anytime soon. They just don’t have the manpower to stop everybody. The City only has 11 tobacco officers for all of Toronto.

“It’s just like police try to catch people speeding or running red lights,” says Chan, “unless you have people at every red light, you can only go on complaints and spot checks.”

Be sure to check out next week’s Breaking Bylaws for what we found out regarding the City’s marijuana bylaws.

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