Home > Smoke-Free Legislation > Municipal Bylaws > Developing a Local Smoke-free Campaign Strategy

Municipal Bylaws


(Please refer to the "Smoke-Free Lobby" manual for more detailed instructions on developing a smoke-free bylaw campaign)

Effective local bylaw campaigns can make the difference between municipalities supporting strong public health measures or bending to the pressure exerted by local businesses (especially hospitality businesses). Public opinion research across the province consistently shows public support for smoke-free public places, but this latent support needs to be mobilized for politicians and local officials to weigh it appropriately. Hostility to smoke-free bylaws is usually obvious and energetic (although not representative of community attitudes) and politicians place a disproportionate value on this opposition.

Evaluating the local situation

The type of campaign mounted on a local level is dependent on the following considerations:

  • Current bylaw provisions on smoke-free places. Are proponents starting from scratch or trying to improve an existing by-law?

  • Level of bureaucratic support for smoke-free public places and the extent to which staff are prepared to make strong recommendations;

  • Level of political support for smoke-free public places. This political support can be gauged in several ways:
    • Are there obvious champions on council who support smoke-free places? Are these champions credible? Are they detrimental to the cause?
    • Do politicians generally acknowledge the risks associated with second-hand smoke or are they challenging the basic findings and recommendations of public health advocates?
    • Do politicians treat public health advocates or community health advocates as allies or antagonists? What is their predisposition?

  • The critical mass of local activism. This can be gauged in several ways:
    • Is there a strong nucleus of volunteers or professionals who can take an active part in the campaign?
    • Is there someone who can be a credible local spokesperson?
    • Are there resources (people, money) available to spend on communications and lobbying? Are volunteers available to make telephone calls, attend public meetings, visit their local politicians?
    • Is there a positive history of activism in the community on community/public health issues?
    • Is support available from outside the community?

  • What is the timing and process for creating a smoke-free bylaw? Is a proposal imminent or has something already passed? Or are proponents fighting to get this on the council radar screen for the first time?

  • What is the level of public support for smoke-free places?

The above information can be used to develop a campaign strategy and will also help to determine which campaign tactics should be employed.

Campaign strategic elements

The most obvious strategic decision relates to whether the local campaign team is collaborating with municipal authorities (politicians or staff) or whether it is convincing them. Collaborating takes the form of sharing, educating, supporting, and defending. Convincing local municipal authorities takes the form of educating, cajoling, persuading, promoting, displaying, activating, mobilizing and lobbying.

In a collaborative framework, local campaigners and municipal authorities cooperate on the timing and the substance of proposals that are brought before council or the regional health authority. They cooperate on media strategy and on promotional elements. They share intelligence about what politicians are thinking.

In more antagonistic scenarios, municipal staff and politicians treat public/community health activists like outsiders to be "managed". They keep their recommendations secret except for periodic, perfunctory, controlled public events dubbed "consultation."

In antagonistic campaigns, health activists must pressure politicians into doing the right thing. In collaborative campaigns, health activists must counteract opposition to smoke-free bylaws, liberating politicians to do what they want to do anyway.

In sum, is the local campaign collaborative or antagonistic?

The next strategic decision is based on what is realistically achievable.

Politics has been called the art of the possible. In an ideal world, every jurisdiction would be led by political and bureaucratic leaders who make decisions based on the principles of a sustainable, healthy, inclusive, empowered community. They would make decisions based on rational arguments, based on evidence. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, so proponents have to decide what is realistically achievable.

Can they attain the gold standard of 100% smoke-free public places within six months? Within one year? Within four years? Can they attain a silver standard that provides maximum protection for children and people at risk?

At the outset of the campaign proponents will likely strive for the gold standard, but do they need to secretly plan for a fallback position?

Campaign tactical elements

Once proponents have taken stock of the local situation and answered some strategic questions, the campaign can be built.

Here are some of the most commonly used tactics at the local level:

  • Expert briefings: Can proponents' organizations provide local authorities with information that they need to create a better bylaw? Or can they recruit an expert who can help? The content could include: health effects of second-hand smoke, experience with bylaws in other jurisdictions, how to do public opinion polling, shortcomings of ventilation systems, economic impact in other jurisdictions, how to enforce or promote local bylaws, etc. This type of expert briefing could take the form of a seminar for local politicians and staff or it could be one-on-one with key leaders.

  • Political contact management: This is where proponents visit local politicians or chat with them over the telephone. Before doing this, they should know something about the person being lobbied and what makes them tick. After a meeting, attendees should write down the salient points and secretly score the politician on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the strongest supporter (champion) and 1 is the most ardent opponent. This will become shorthand for figuring out who is on-side (7-10), who is opposed (1-3) and who is undecided (4-6) about smoke-free public places. The job, or course, is to make sure there are enough supporters to get what proponents want.

  • Public deputations: In most cases, the content of a typical three or five minute public deputation does not change political minds. However, deputations are important for a few reasons: 1) they are a chance for health advocates to go on the record; 2) they are a chance for health advocates to show they have a lot of support (by packing the room); and 3) they are a chance for health advocates to counter the hospitality industry who will be out in force.

  • Media relations: Whether responding to unfolding events or proactively feeding the media with story ideas, proponents must be accessible, accurate and interesting. Once they have provided journalists with an insight (and a quote) that helps them with their story, they will come back again and again (contacts will be in journalists' rolodexes for life). It is also important to think about non-mainstream news organizations such as cable shows, ethnic media, and student newspapers. If necessary, find spokespeople who can give interviews in other languages.

  • Communications and "sizzle": When communicating a message think beyond the "free" media. Think about buttons and banners and newsletters. What about doing posters for school kids? What about video testimonials from children calling for smoke-free places? What about radio, print or TV advertising?

  • Make the telephones ring: If proponents are in an antagonistic stance, they may need to make the telephones ring. They need people to call their local councillor or mayor. Generating telephone calls from local constituents is far more powerful than letter-writing or postcard mail-in campaigns, because it is human and relentless. (In many municipalities, generating even four or five calls to a local councillor can have a profound effect). Every call should be from a constituent (a voter) and they should NOT be hostile. The callers should be firm but polite. The easiest ways to make the telephones ring are:

    • Literature drops: Distributing 10,000 brochures door-to-door will cost up to $2,000, including printing and postage. If 1/2 of 1% of households call their politician, that is 50 calls.

    • Telephone banks: Have volunteers or paid telephoners call people at home and ask them if they support smoke-free places. If they say yes, tell them they are needed to call City Hall and stress the urgency! A professional phone bank can contact homes for about $2 each. Depending on the level of support in a community, it could cost $10 to generate one call to City Hall.

    • Email lists: If proponents maintain a list of supporters they can send them an urgent message to call City Hall. This is particularly effective on short notice.

  • Letter writing, petitions and emails: These are old standbys, but how effective are they? Individualized letters written by real constituents (especially hand-written or typed on a typewriter) always get noticed. Form letters and pre-printed postcards are quickly recycled. Emails are the latest manifestation of the letter writing campaign. Make sure they are individualized, firm but polite (many email enthusiasts think that they can forgo the civility of traditional letter-writing). Petitions are good for media play if an astronomical number of signatures are obtained. Otherwise, they are good as a source of names and phone numbers which can be used for organizing (make sure that petition sheets have space for telephone numbers and email addresses). Petitions, however, do not change political minds.

  • Community outreach: Organize students, school communities, health care practitioners, non-governmental organizations and supportive hospitality owners, to endorse smoke-free bylaws. Create "cells" of supporters. Think about diversity; supporters should be coming out of the woodwork encouraging politicians to do the right thing. The other side will organize bar, restaurant, bingo and bowling centre owners, workers, and funding recipients (in the case of bingo). They will mobilize the local legion, the Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement Associations.

 The Issues
    Designated Smoking Rooms
    Private Clubs & Canadian Legions
    Bingo Halls & Charity Revenues
    Casinos & Slots-at-Racetracks
    Age Restrictions
    Legal Issues
 Historical Context
 Ontario Bylaws Chart
 Campaign Strategy
 Campaign Materials
 Model Bylaw (pdf)

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