EDITORIAL: Kick in the butt

Cigarette butt fines in B.C. are out of step with related charges.

In what is shaping up to be one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in the province’s history smokers are being singled out as the cause of a number of recent blazes.

Last week near Surrey careless smoking was blamed for as many as 60 grass and mulch fires. It was the suspected cause of a grass fire near Kelowna, as well as one on Burnaby Mountain, and has resulted in several fires recently in West Vancouver.

Forestry Minister Steve Thompson was actually asked by media if he is considering an outright smoking ban in vehicles as a way of reducing fire danger.  Reasonably, the answer to that was basically a “no.” However, the ministry is currently reviewing fines under the Wildfire Act and hopefully that will result in greater penalties.

Consider that in 2014 the cost of fighting fires in BC was $297.9 million. Forty-four percent of those fires were caused by humans and some of those were indeed caused by smoking.

That’s an expensive habit for any province.

Yet in B.C., the fine for flicking a lit cigarette out a car window is $173. The only way it can be higher is if the cigarette is proved to cause a fire, and the perpetrator can be assigned part or all of the firefighting and associated costs.

By way of comparison, the same flick in Calgary costs a smoker $1,000. In Western Australia – a place that knows a thing or two about wildfires – penalties for careless smoking can reach fines of $25,000 and/or 12 months in jail.

Cigarette butt fines in B.C. are out of step with related charges, for example contravening a fire ban, which can net a minimum ticket of $345 and if prosecuted in court could result in a maximum fine of $100,000 plus jail time.

While B.C. residents might be considered the choir, the province needs to preach to the congregation of thousands of visitors who drive its highways every summer.

Media campaigns, advertising and more highway signage promoting the dangers of careless smoking would have a cost attached, but surely in the long run would result in saving money, property and potentially lives.