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Vancouver bans sale of some butane lighters

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The City of Vancouver has decided to prohibit the sale of continuous flame butane lighters and introduced a hefty fine for anyone who violates the new bylaw.

Beginning June 28, retailers will be banned from selling lockable butane lighters. Violators will be subject to a $1,000 fine, according to the city.

The decision comes following a report from city staff and Vancouver Fire Services that attributed the lighters to an increase in fires, causing injuries, death and structure damage.

“These lighters are the biggest risk to our residents right now in our city,” said Fire Chief Karen Fry.

Fry said since 2023, Vancouver Fire has been called to more than 3,300 fires, 200 of which have occurred in the last few months. She said 79 people have been injured, and there have been six deaths.

“We had a young student who was burned and succumbed to their injuries," she said.

One of the reasons for the increase is the change in how people use drugs, according to Fry. Data from the BC Coroners Service found smoking is now the most common way that people in the province consume drugs. Many overdose prevention sites are set up to allow the injection of drugs, not smoking or inhaling.

“We need to come up with a better solution for them to use their drugs in a safe way, because this current way of using with inhalation with a continuous flame is causing way too many deaths and injuries and a loss of housing stock,” said Fry.

Fry said the majority of fires occur in SROs in the Downtown Eastside.

A letter from the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users argues that prohibiting these lighters won't make SROs safer and won't in and of itself do much of anything to protect vulnerable people from fires causing serious injury, death or displacement.

VANDU President Lorna Bird said she supported the ban, as long as it’s focused on businesses who sell the lighters, and doesn’t target individuals.

“I do know a guy from here who burned down his place with one of those,” she said. “He’s been homeless for about a year because of it. I guess he fell asleep and the thing kept burning and it burned down his place.”

According to a news release published by the city Wednesday, Vancouver Fire will continue to work with SRO building operators and staff to educate residents on the risks of open flames and support fire safety training.

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