OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Cigarette smoke wafting in the sea breeze and discarded cigarette butts in the sand may soon be scenes of the past on Maine’s busiest beach.

After hearing a presentation July 19 from local high school students, the Town Council is considering an ordinance that would ban smoking on the beach.

Hattie Simon, Sabryna Deshaies, MaryKate Slattery and Sarah Jenkins used a $330 grant they received after attending the Maine Youth Anti-Tobacco Summit in 2009 to research and draft an ordinance. The premise is to reduce not only exposure to secondhand smoke, but also waste found on the beach, from cigarette butts to packaging and lighters.

Town Council Chairman Robert Quinn said Thursday that a workshop will be scheduled to further discuss the issue. If the workshop produces a viable ordinance, he said the town would have a public hearing before the council takes action.

“There’s more unanswered questions on anything like this,” Quinn said. “We need to get a lot of information before we move forward.”

This includes finding out how other resort communities across the country have handled smoking, as well as checking with nearby communities, he said.

A total of 73 communities in Maine have adopted tobacco-free policies for town parks, recreation areas and playgrounds, as well as beaches. Portland, York, Ogunquit, Scarborough and South Portland have local ordinances that ban smoking specifically on beaches.

South Portland adopted the ordinance earlier this month. Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis said the city is still working to place “no smoking” signs near the beaches, parks and public ways, but she has received positive feedback about the ordinance.

“People feel like this is a great thing. It improves the quality of life in South Portland and really, this idea that we’re making decisions for our future generations as well,” she said.

In 2009, Maine passed a law that prohibits smoking on all state-owned beaches, parks or historic sites.

Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that although a trend has not been identified, the statewide law may be prompting towns and cities to create local ordinances.

“We think (a trend) might happen. The tendency is once things go into state law, it’s easier to enforce,” Pinette said.

But as Ali Guvenc took a drag off his cigarette while enjoying Old Orchard’s beach Thursday, he questioned how far government can restrict something that is legal for those 18 and older.

“It’s a little too much intervention,” he said. “I understand the health issues. I’m making an adult choice.”

Like many enjoying the beach, Guvenc was on vacation from Canada with his wife, Velma Guvenc. She understands the motives behind a smoking ban, but said the town should consider creating an area to accommodate smokers.

Down the beach, Rita Tamburro and Josie Gentile, visiting from Montreal, were against the ban.

“To make it nonsmoking is exaggerated,” Tamburro said. “I’m on vacation. I want to sit back, have a cigarette and relax.”

Said Gentile: “Some people won’t come because they want to smoke.”

As a tourist destination, Quinn said the Town Council will have to take that into consideration as well. If Old Orchard Beach adopts an ordinance, it will have to work for merchants, tourists and citizens, he said.

“The sense I get, a lot of businesses are very leery of it. They have concerns it might hurt their business,” Quinn said. “It could be a benefit as well as a detriment. We need to tread very carefully.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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