Vancouver's smoke-free Games plan runs out of puff

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By Mary Milliken

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Vancouver's plan to host smoke-free Winter Games were stubbed out after Olympic officials told the city to make room for people who love to puff, particularly Europeans and the media.

In a city that prides itself on healthy living, bike-riding Mayor Gregor Robertson recognized that Vancouver could not impose its strict anti-smoking culture on legions of visitors to the Games that open on Friday (Feb 12-28).

"We need to be welcoming the world with open arms and not being too prescriptive with regulations and practices that we live by day to day," said Robertson.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) wanted to ban smoking to reflect "our very strong commitment to a healthy environment for spectators, athletes, officials, everyone," said Renee Smith-Valade, vice president of communications.

While there will be no smoking inside indoor sports venues, VANOC was told by the International Olympic Committee that it must designate smoking areas outside the arenas.

"The IOC did ask us to ensure that (the smoking areas) were available to accommodate ... the journalists particularly who are coming, but other spectators that may be coming from Europe or other countries," said Smith-Valade.

"At the outdoor venues, we are encouraging everyone to be respectful of the people around them if they choose to smoke," she added.

Smoking is banned in Vancouver's bars and restaurants and patrons who want to light up have to go outside and smoke several meters away from entry doors.

The same rules apply to the mountain resort of Whistler, which is also hosting Alpine skiing competitions.

Residents are known to admonish people who smoke too close to doorways.

While the city is no haven for cigarette smokers, it is known to be one of the more tolerant places for smokers of marijuana, which is legal for those possessing a government card allowing it for medicinal purposes.

(Reporting by Mary Milliken and Allan Dowd; editing by Jon Bramley)