By David Schout
Bourke Street Mall will be smoke-free from October 4 after overwhelming community support for a ban led City of Melbourne councillors to vote for its implementation.
Over 3000 people and 160 businesses were surveyed about a prospective ban earlier this year, including 1000 personal interviews on Bourke St.
Four in five people supported the ban, which will be enforced on the popular pedestrian thoroughfare between Elizabeth St and Russell Place.
More surprisingly, only a third of the 467 smokers interviewed were against the ban. People caught smoking in Bourke Street Mall could now face a fine of $100.
The newest smoke-free area becomes the ninth CBD zone to prohibit smokers after The Causeway was the first to do so in 2014.
The decision to ban smokers in Bourke Street Mall – an area that accommodates 60,000 visitors, residents and workers daily – is the first large-scale area where the practice is prohibited in the CBD. It is now the city’s highest-profile smoke-free zone.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the move was part of the city’s commitment to protect people from passive smoking.
“Smoking takes a terrible toll on our community; it costs lives, damages health and affects the wellbeing of thousands of people,” she said.
Cr Capp admitted on ABC radio that the ban was “difficult to enforce”, and the council had issued only 15 fines in 2019.
She said, however, capital cities banning smoking “isn’t an unusual phenomenon”, and the council had a focus on education.
“There are plenty of places around the city where you can still smoke. What we are doing is raising people’s awareness of the impacts that smoking has on themselves – so we hope it makes them think about that – but also on others. And that’s really important to us.”
She confirmed that while vaping was not part of the new policy, it was currently weighing up evidence whether to include it.
But some councillors said the incremental bans throughout the CBD were overly tolerant, and protracted consultation processes were halting wider bans.
“As far as I’m concerned it doesn’t go far enough, it isn’t big enough,” Cr Jackie Watts said.
“We’re not progressing this smoke-free environment for our community as fast as it could go. So, it bothers me that the process we are taking, although it’s rigorous … it does allow this toxicity to continue in our city for way too long.”
“It is my hope that we can get on with this in a much speedier manner. The data is out there smoking is dangerous we don’t want any of our people to do it. It costs the community in so many ways.”
But Greens councillor Rohan Leppert said a city-wide ban was unreasonable.
“The reason we don’t revert the entire municipality into an entire smoke-free zone overnight is that it’s an enforcement impossibility. And as soon as you have an enforcement impossibility, it becomes acceptable again to breach that law.”
Cr Leppert said while he was also keen to expand smoke-free zones, heavy-fisted smoking bans like those in Singapore were excessive.
“The best way (for change) is to facilitate what is an obvious trend in society at the moment, which is that smoking is on the outer, that smoking is not cool.” “Wherever the city enforces that in highly-populated areas, that can only hasten that societal trend. But we don’t really have the autocratic powers to just outlaw smoking across the board.”
While several CBD locations have become smoke-free following community engagement, some have not.
In 2017, the council decided against making RMIT University footpaths smoke-free after a period of public consultation.
The eight other designated smoke-free areas within the CBD are: Goldsbrough Lane, QV Melbourne, The Causeway, Howey Place, Equitable Place, Block Place, Collins Way and Fulham Place.