Okotoks, Alberta - enforcement - no fines issued smoking drivers with kids..

August 10, 2009 - It's been almost a year since Okotoks became the first Alberta municipality to outlaw smoking in cars carrying children--a controversial move that sparked mixed reaction from local residents.

But since the bylaw came into effect last September 2008, not a single smoker has been slapped with a fine for taking a puff behind the wheel with kids under the age of 16 in the back seat.

Okotoks Councillor Stephen Clark--who spearheaded the ban -- considers the lack of tickets a positive sign that smokers are taking the $200 penalty seriously and rethinking the unhealthy habit. There is no disputing that children confined in a vehicle are vulnerable to negative effects from second-hand smoke, he stressed.
"The intent isn't to be confrontational. We want people to change their behaviour-- that's really where the focus lies in Okotoks," said Clark.

But some council members, like chiropractor Ed Sands, aren't convinced the bylaw has changed anyone's habits in the bedroom community 30 kilometres ()18.6 miles) south of Calgary.

Bans on smoking in cars with children already exist in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and the Yukon. Several [a few] U. S. states also prohibit smoking in cars with kids. Last year, an Alberta Tory MLA called for a province-wide ban in a private member's bill. But health officials say there is currently no plan to do so, noting the goal is to reduce tobacco use in public places and not someone's vehicle or property. "We're aware that other jurisdictions did introduce that legislation . . . at this point, it's not something that's on the books," said Alberta Health spokesman John Tuckwell.

Anti-tobacco advocate Action on Smoking and Health finds it a bit surprising the Okotoks bylaw has yet to spur other municipalities in Alberta to introduce similar regulations. Executive director Les Hagen considers the Okotoks bylaw a success because the point isn't to bully people with fines, but raise awareness.

Second-hand smoke has been linked to bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, chronic respiratory symptoms and middle-ear infections in children. Exposure is also thought to increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in babies.

Hagen: "The bylaw sets a new social standard that smoking in cars is simply unacceptable. The impact goes beyond Okotoks. I believe there are fewer people doing it in Calgary as a result."

The ban drew skepticism from some residents and politicians when it was first proposed. Some dismissed it as unenforceable; others labeled it a violation of personal freedoms. Alberta Civil Liberties Association president Stephen Jenuth considers the bylaw excessive.

Related news brief: Okotoks, Alberta - Smoking in Vehicles With Kids Present Banned..

Reference: No fines issued to smoking drivers in Okotoks Bylaw aimed at protecting children by Tamara Gignac, Calgary Herald, 8/8/2009.