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That Six-Metre Smoking By-Law

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Someone had the gaul to mutter "asshole" at me for smoking while walking along Alberni Street in front of the new Urban Fare today. I turned around, caught up with them and got in their face about it (very likely confirming their opinion of me, but I wasn't about to let it slide.) And while being called an asshole is not something new to me, I was offended by their attempt make me believe I was somehow in violation of the Vancouver Health By-Law because I was less than six metres away from a doorway while walking down a public sidewalk.

This prompted me to actually look up the details of the by-law and cross reference a few things with other by-laws.

The by-law is worded in such a way that it initially appears that you pretty much can't smoke anywhere, but the details of where and how it can be enforced belay a lot of the restrictions. Yes, the by-law states that no smoking is permitted [Section 2.2]

(e) within six metres measured on the ground from a point directly below any point of any opening into any building including any door or window that opens or any air intake;

(f) in a customer service area; or

(g) within six metres of the perimeter of a customer service area.

however (and this is a big, fat, "however") it only applies (according to section 2.3 (c)) to the limit of the property line that the building occupies or the boundary of the "customer service area" (e.g. the area a café has a permit for sidewalk seating, or an area on the property where food or alcohol is served or consumed.)

So, for example, if I were standing in the parking lot behind a business that was part of the property occupied by the business I would in fact have to be six metres from any door, window or air intake and the owner or operator of the business would be required to enforce the bylaw. I'd also have to stay six metres away from a seating area for a cafeteria if by being less than six metres away I was still on the same property as the seating area. But if I were standing right in front of the business, even immediately in front of the door or open window, as long as I am not on the parcel occupied by the business nor in an area they business has a permit to use the sidewalk for seating where food or alcohol can be consumed, the by-law is not being violated and the business owner or operator is has no onus or right to stop me from smoking whatsoever. Likewise if I were standing right beside the limit of a sidewalk seating area on a public sidewalk.

It gets even more interesting in the light of the Encroachment By-Law. An "encroachment" is part of a building or structure that sticks out onto or over public space, such as an awning. There is careful wording to ensure sidewalk and balcony seating for cafés, restaurants and bars are included (but only insofar as areas where food or alcoholic beverages are actually to be served or consumed in the area in question, so that a balcony like that at Club 23 West where you can't be served or consume alcohol doesn't count), but the area under an awning or canopy that sticks out over the sidewalk or other area that is not within the boundaries of the lot the building is on is as exempt from the no-smoking section of the Vancouver Health By-Law as the uncovered sidewalk.

So go ahead, stand under that awning, just over the property line, and have a smoke - regardless of doors, windows, and air-intakes. There is nothing anyone can do about it, except threaten you, which is against the law.

(And while it does not change the law or make anything more legal, there is the less-than-small issue of practical enforceability: consider that the same by-law also prohibits spitting on or in any street or other public place!)

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