Council backs penalties on public smoking
The Palmerston North City Council advocates fines for smokers who light up in public places.
After a move to ask central government for powers to back up a possible bylaw was narrowly defeated at a committee meeting two weeks ago, councillors had a change of heart. A majority supported the plan at this week's full council meeting.
Initiated by Cr Chris Teo-Sherrell, the recommendation asks for letters to be sent to the incoming ministers of health and local government seeking a wider range of bylaw enforcement powers to discourage smoking.
The council earlier rejected a bylaw, preferring to use education and persuasion to encourage compliance with a smokefree outdoor places policy for the central city.
But Teo-Sherrell said the council needed to start now to secure the option of a bylaw that could be enforced if the policy didn't work.
"As part of the national effort to make New Zealand smokefree by 2025, we might decide to take that extra step, and would need to have powers that make it meaningful."
Councils were already able to write bylaws prohibiting smoking in certain places, but they were difficult to enforce.
Teo-Sherrell said he was pleased several councillors had changed their minds, including MidCentral District Health Board member Adrian Broad and previous member Jim Jefferies.
However, mayor Jono Naylor, who is campaigning for National with a message of advocacy for improved health outcomes, did not support a bylaw.
Naylor said there was no conflict in his stand. "I can absolutely strongly advocate for better health outcomes. That does not mean I think a bylaw is the best methodology. I'm not sure punishing people for smoking in public places is necessarily the right thing."
Breaching a bylaw did not make people criminals, and it was not very welcoming to confront visitors to the city with fines for lighting up, Naylor said.
MidCentral public health services co-ordinator of health promotion Sharon Vera welcomed the council's preparations to move to the next phase in discouraging smoking.
The smokefree policy and other initiatives had been successful in encouraging more people to quit through limiting places people could smoke without social disapproval, Vera said.
But it would become increasingly difficult to influence the remaining "hard core" of smokers to quit or remove themselves from public places and take their habit out of the view of others, especially children.
"It will only be through strengthening some of these policies that we will really make a difference. We would see it as an advantage to be moving to the next phase, and without some legal encouragement, it will be hard."
The council has also decided to review its year-old policy and make budget proposals to support it in next year's Long Term Plan review.