Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Ban smoking at sports fields, too

Read more articles by


Toronto’s Board of Health and Parks and Environment Committee are recommending [PDF] City Council ban smoking within nine meters of Toronto playgrounds and other child-oriented outdoor recreation facilities to prevent children from inhaling second hand smoke from nearby adults. To the Board of Health, I say: good on you. But the ban should go a step further and also stomp out smoking around sports fields, as some advocates have suggested.

If it isn’t clear already, I don’t have an ounce of compassion for smokers. One of my pet peeves is being caught behind a smoker (or even worse, a group of smokers) in the middle of the sidewalk. I’ll even make sure that the security guards who patrol around my office enforce the nine meter rule for smokers near the doors of the building — yes, even in winter.

But sports fields hold a special significance to me.

Aside from the occasional babysitting and dog walking gig, my first real pay cheque came from umpiring kids baseball games for the North Toronto Baseball Association. I did it for a few summers starting when I was 14. The baseball league’s rules included a very clear no smoking clause for players and observers but enforcing it was a completely different ball game.

Try being a 14 year old telling a parent with a nicotine addiction to butt out. It doesn’t go over very well. While some are easily shamed, I had more than a few parents undermine my request for them to take their cigarette elsewhere or put it out. It got to the point that when I had a parent who continued to ignore the rules of the field, I’d just stop the game. Eventually the pressure of their child’s embarrassment, the inconvenienced players on the field or the other parents in the stands would force the smoking dad (never a mom) to do the right thing.

The first time I made a point of enforcing the rule I wasn’t too sure of myself. I thought maybe I’d gone over the line of the necessary and on to power trip. That feeling was erased when a couple of parents and players thanked me for asserting the rule like few others would. It made the game and park more enjoyable for them.

Fast forward ten years and I now coach a youth team at a baseball diamond in the former city of York. Things haven’t changed. Some parents still smoke like chimneys at the games, even right behind the backstop where the smoke wafts right on to the field. The difference now is this league doesn’t have a smoking rule so I can’t do anything but ask that the smokers keep their distance from my team’s dugout.

For those who will snap back that it isn’t just kids who use the City’s sports fields, I’m unmoved. I play baseball in a men’s league with a few smokers (or smoking significant others) on every team. The rules for our league include no smoking in the dugouts or on the field but with chain link fences and wind, smoke blows all over and us non-smokers just hope our at-bats don’t conflict with a smoker feeding their addiction nearby.

Bottom line: it just doesn’t make sense to expose the majority of the population to the whims of the smoking minority in public spaces. Parks should be for everyone to enjoy without feeling like they’ve got to move to get away from someone else’s dirty habit. If you want to smoke, it’s up to you to find a place where no one else is being inconvenienced.



  1. Baseball is for chewing tobacco anyway.

    My memory of playing Hockey for many years as a kid was in the back seat of a neighbour’s Buick or Chrysler New Yorker or some similar 1980s sedan while he hot-boxed it with a chainsmoke of Craven-A’s on our way to the arena. Smoking was widespread then, so I don’t think I made the connection that my burning eyes and cough were “bad” — it was just “normal”. Coupled with the smoke stink after getting out of the car, and then that all too Canadian stink of musty hockey equipment, the whole episode (er, 8 years of it) was an ol factory nightmare. How many kid’s NHL careers were ruined by chain smoking hockey dads?

  2. Are we getting to a time where instead of collaborating on the banishment of smoking from specific areas, should we rather be joining forces to have smoking banned entirely? Where is that lobby?

    Yes, smokes make the province money. But the government should certainly not be making money off the masochistic behaviour of a shrinking section of the population.

    We have to wear seatbelt for 2 reasons, a) so we won’t die and b) so the government won’t have to pay for our care if we happen to survive. The same rule could be applied to smoking. Does the amount of money spent caring for those affected by smoking (including non-smokers) equal or surpass the amount of tax revenue taken in from smokers?

    There’s a valid argument that if we dramatically reduce the number of places a person can smoke, they may eventually drop the habit, finally put off by the terrific inconvenience. But isn’t that a rather morbid way to make people healthier? Sure, some will take the bait. But others will continue to kill themselves and those around them.

    I think this idea is great, Adam. Kids need less environmental hazards in their lives, everywhere. Now, how about we apply the same level of care to fat-headed adults.

    (p.s…I know I’m not addressing the black market that will emerge if we attempted to ban smoking unilaterally in Ontario. But hey…bikers needs something to do)

  3. Smokers are people too. A little compassion goes a long way.

  4. Spacing wrote about smoking in public spaces in our current issue. Page 23.

    While I’m with Adam CF 97% on this, I agree there is some compassion needed for smokers. Nicotine is a hard drug to quit. The risks outwiegh the joy of smoking, so it seems like a simple decision to make, but much harder to execute. But the negative social conditioning surrounding smoking, which our governments are trying to implement, is one of the worthwhile interventions into private life that I can get behind.

    Shawn: That was my experience too. I’d like to blame the three shoulder separations in grade 12 for ruining my scholarship to Bowling Green U, but I think I’ll change that story and blame my chain smoking parents.

  5. Hats off to Adam for enforcing the smoking ban in his umpiring days.

    At the risk of painting all smokers with a common brush, they all to some degree act without realizing the extent their habit effects others. Even those who try to be aware and act accordingly often just don’t get it. Many will simply think that being 9 or 10 metres away is being considerate, but they fail to consider which way the wind is blowing.

    The bottom line: if someone can simply detect the smell, it is a problem. Never mind if the threshold of detection is far below a level that would constitute a health hazzard – all it will take is for this to happen one day to someone who is in the middle of a very bad day, or someone missing a chromosome or two, and the ill-effects of the second hand smoke will rear a dangerous effect on the smoker.

    Should smoking be totally banned? In a perfect world, sure, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Aside from the issues of total withdrawal from an addictive substance suddenly by a significant part of the population, and the black-market issue, it goes against human nature. Human nature accepts evolution, and detests revolution. A total ban can only be achieved a little bit at a time.

  6. “Smokers are people too. A little compassion goes a long way.”

    As an ex-smoker, my view is that that cuts both ways. Don’t smoke where people don’t want you to smoke.

  7. This banning smoking from specific areas(*indoors excluded) is getting a little out of hand. We should be lobbying against smokes entirely!(I too hate second hand smoke)

    And if folks want to smoke and poison themselves in public air, let them! I just won’t allow my kid around them thats’ all. What’s the big deal?

    And lastly, wouldn’t this be almost impossible to police?

  8. In the same way that drinkers are relegated to a designated area at all-ages events, when children are around, smokers should be relegated to a designated area as well.

    The government can use the money from the recent beer price increase to make up for the lost cigarette revenue. At least until beer is banned as well.

  9. Banning beer? Now THAT would start a revolution!

    Does anyone here remember the days of people smoking in the workplace? As a youngster I remember going to City Hall with mom when she’d pay the property taxes. There was nothing worse than having some surly civil servant behind the counter blow smoke at you while you were standing there.

    I spent a couple of weeks helping out a buddy doing office cleaning in the last summer before workplace smoking was banned. There was nothing more disgusting and nauseating than having to empty people’s ashtrays from their desks, and you could see the staining on the ceiling panels and other places. Things have really improved a lot, but now we can breathe other air pollution instead, which seems to have become much worse in the same time.

  10. I understand Adam’s point of view, and have no real objection to it–it’d be just as offensive if a parent was sitting in the stands getting increasingly drunk as the game went on.

    But the call to completely ban smoking that has followed is appalling and ignorant.

    First, tobacco rights are guaranteed to First Nations in the oldest treaties we have with them–backed up by the BNA act, backed up by the Canadian Constitution. I thought stripping Natives of treaty rights was going out of fashion.

    The reason these tobacco rights are there is because smoking is a spiritually important practice. And just because you don’t share someone’s religious beliefs, doesn’t mean you get to trounce them, especially when they are held and practiced privately.

    Second, nicotene addiction is so widespread, that by raising taxes to make it prohibitively expensive, or outright banning it, only drives the addicted to the black-market. If you don’t like what government is doing with tobacco taxes, imagine what your neighbourhood drug-dealer would rather be doing with the profits instead.

    Third, smoking a cigarette, or a cigar, can be entirely pleasant and a relaxing thing to do with other adults. Akin to sharing wine, or good scotch, or a joint. Or, if you prefer, seeing a movie, or going to the theatre. (These, by the way, are all things moral puritans have tried to ban in the past, and still do in some places). You don’t have to like it–but you’re not compelled to do it. But common sense and courtesy, and more importantly protecting your own indulgences, suggests you shouldn’t smash the pleasures of others just because it’s “dirty” or you don’t approve of it.

    Live and let live is the motto of decent society.

  11. Second, nicotene addiction is so widespread, that by raising taxes to make it prohibitively expensive, or outright banning it, only drives the addicted to the black-market. If you don’t like what government is doing with tobacco taxes, imagine what your neighbourhood drug-dealer would rather be doing with the profits instead.

    Richard may have the economic bailout idea we need to jumpstart the economy: black market cigarettes!

  12. This is ridiculous because it flies in the face of scientific reality.

    The reality is that second hand smoke is harmful to those who endure it day in day out. In a house or a restaurant.

    A whiff of cigarette smoke outdoors is less dangerous than sitting beside a campfire for a couple of hours. Shall we ban campfires?

    Lets not abandon our sanity.

  13. I don’t think this was framed entirely as a health issue. I read the post more in line with the idea that public smoking imposes one of society’s worst habits upon others. I see this, and read Adam’spost, as a manners and politeness perspective.

  14. If Adam is suggesting that smoking at a field is bad form, I would agree.

    But a ban based on manners? That’s even worse than a ban based on a faulty interpretation of health risk.

    The part I like best is when Adam wonders why the majority should endure the habits of the minority.

  15. For me it’s a cultural issue foremost. If we show young kids that smoking is unacceptable in the places they associate with being good, healthy places, it’ll keep them from associating smoking with things they like. There are certainly other factors involved in choosing to smoke but this is one where an assertive government can work to some effect.

    And, as I alluded to in the post, I find the etiquette of smokers on the whole to be apalling. From flicking their butts anywhere they please to taking over all sorts of public spaces, there is by and large very little consideration given for how smokers affect environments that aren’t designated non-smoking.

    As far as the health impact goes, I don’t think that children are going to live X many years longer because no one smoked near their playgrounds, although it definitely won’t do any damage.

    In terms of banning smoking all together, I don’t think it’s realistic. We’ve seen the collateral damage of the drug trade and it makes me think that a harm reduction approach will be far more effective. But harm reduction is about giving people safe places and/or conditions to do what they’re going to do anyways without further hurting themselves or others. Smoking in public spaces does infringe on others on various levels.

  16. Don’t forget that smoking helps some people with mental disorders function better.

    Generally speaking I’m against bans of any sort on private property (I still disagree with the ban in bars, even though I’m a non-smoker). You can certainly make the argument for a ban in public spaces like parks and city buildings, but I worry that the enthusiasm for bans will (or already has) go overboard.

  17. I’m with you Adam, but on the subject of banning cigarettes altogether I think it is important to remember the massive social consequences of black market cigarette sales. Of course, this is already the case. The high price of smokes has allowed Hells Angels and other organized crime to take hold on reserves across the country. Just what reserves need…

  18. I think it’s totally bizarre that smoking was banned in bars years ago and it’s only now that it’s an issue at playgrounds and sports fields. This ought to be proof that the bans have little to do with concern for public health.

  19. Josh Hind wrote:

    “(p.s…I know I’m not addressing the black market that will emerge if we attempted to ban smoking unilaterally in Ontario. But hey…bikers needs something to do)”

    Is that your attempt at addressing this issue? You really think that giving bikers “something to do” is somehow better for society, in comparison to banning cigarettes? I’m going to assume that was a joke…

    Either way, it’s a little funny to see what an argument to ban an unagreeable smell turns into, when so many seem so quick to turn a blind eye to other annoying pollutants that might *actually* be a health concern.

    For example, I certainly hope none of these people complaining drive a car in the city on a regular, casual basis without a sense of remorse. These noisy, stinking, occasionally-mortally-dangerous machines, depending on the mood and sobriety of the operator, that literally spew tons of toxins into the air are *far* more annoying than catching a whiff of a cigarette, on an order of magnitude since it permeates almost every public experience. If you want to talk logically, your arguments apply equally, perhaps it’s even more relevant, to motorists as well. You think anybody enjoys getting a face full of car exhaust while crossing the street? You don’t think there’s a real reason for smog alerts?

    I think the solution could be easier than an outright ban. Regulate it, make it so expensive that people will avoid doing it casually, and everybody enjoys the profits. You’d still be able to enjoy a cigar or these now “fancy” cigarettes if you’re inclined, as long as they are purchased and used in places where they are allowed (a growing social taboo could do wonders here).

    Uh, oh! Got addicted? Make it easy for people to get help, and ensure the addiction is as taboo as a cocaine or heroin addiction (including the sympathy/pity).

    You want no smoking within nine meters of an entrance? Then I don’t want anything spewing any kind of toxic, smelly smoke into the air within nine meters of places the public is admitted. Hello car tax, goodbye smog days, thank you from asthma sufferers. Or add a “pollutant tax” to any commodity that people use casually that results in air pollution. If cigarettes are banned so should internal combustion engines, leaf-blowers, “Mad-vacs,” etc. You could scale it based on a review of associated health risks.

    But a complete ban on cigarettes? Please.

    As far as manners go, at some point, you’ll have to learn to deal with adults as adults! (that means coming up with more than “Ewwww it’s SOOOOO gross, and OMG annoying too!”) If there’s a non-smoking rule, of course they should be enforced (imagine that the umpire might have felt embarrassed asking someone to butt out!), but the same logic should be applied with other nuisances.

    These same efforts directed towards FAR MORE PRESSING ISSUES could result in much more pleasant and safer public spaces, and would shame a number of hypocrites, smokers and non-, into thinking more about what they are doing.

  20. I know what you mean. I am a long-time smoker with absolutely no willpower when it comes to quitting. The reason I’m still alive is because I switched to these new, healthy cigarettes. Check out my blog at!

  21. Adam,
    Thanks for expanding on this topic. I have been searching via Yahoo/Bing for the past couple hours. I have read many of your other posts and they are awesome. I can’t wait for your next post. I also like the theme. Keep it going.