Letter to the editor published in the South Delta Leader:

Dear Editor, thank you for your Aug. 22 ‘Readerpoll’ question: “Has the recent car fire aboard a B.C. Ferry made you question the service’s safety?”

As a 30-year B.C. Ferry employee (currently a Second Officer), I would suggest that there’s no need to question the service’s safety, certainly not as a result of this particular fire, or the majority of shipboard fires, for that matter. The crews are very well-trained to deal with any and all emergencies, including those (fires, and, if they get out of control, abandon ship procedures) which result from the use of a product which management refuses to take seriously and address effectively.

Whether or not the Aug. 15 fire was caused by a smouldering cigarette (personally, I’m not aware of any mattress that has ever spontaneously combusted), cigarette-ignited fires are the leading cause of shipboard fires, yet B.C. Ferry Services stubbornly refuses to ban smoking, entirely, aboard all B.C. Ferry vessels and on the terminals, as our neighbours to the south—Washington State Ferries (WSF)—successfully did years ago. In fact, despite my suggestions to do so, nobody from BCFS has even bothered to pick up a telephone and call WSF and discuss any and all concerns BCFS may have about implementing such a ban—and how WSF dealt with those issues!

BCFS’s justification for not banning smoking, entirely? Two extremely weak/false arguments: 1) We’re a public transportation system, and we have to cater to/accommodate all of our passengers; and 2) How would such a ban ever be enforced?

BCFS could—if “safety” truly was its number one priority—in conjunction with a complete smoking ban, provide one or more of the dozens of nicotine replacement therapies (nicotine gum, lozenges, rubs, inhalers, etc.). Problem solved: Smokers get their hit of nicotine and all the rest of us enjoy a smoke-free environment, indoors and out, with a dramatically-reduced risk of fire!

To the second argument: the “enforcement” red herring has been raised prior to each and every smoking ban that has ever occurred; most notably, bar and pub smoking bans. And, in each and every case, it turns out that enforcement is not an issue at all (since the vast majority of smokers are good, law-abiding citizens, assuming, of course, that the law is well-advertised, clearly posted, etc.), yet “enforcement” continues to be one of the most persistent tobacco industry-perpetuated “doom and gloom” myths associated with smoking bans.

Tragically, terrorism is a very real threat nowadays, 2010 is fast approaching and barbed-wire fencing is now being installed at BCFS terminals. If recent history is any indication, I think smoking on board ferries is a much bigger threat than terrorism ever will be. And if enforcement of the No Smoking law means arresting, charging, fining and/or jailing smokers, as has been done on many occasions on airlines), then so be it.

And, speaking of terrorism: smoking kills more people worldwide every six hours than were killed in all of the 9/11 attacks. Sort of makes you wonder who the real terrorists are, doesn’t it?

Errol E. Povah,
President, Airspace Action on Smoking and Health,