PORTLAND — They’re on the sidewalks, on the streets and in the cracks between the cobblestones.
The sight of cigarette butts, seemingly everywhere, is one of the most common complaints from tourists who visit Portland.
City officials hope the threat of a $100 fine will get smokers to kick the habit of flicking their butts on the ground.
“(Tourists) come here expecting it to be this pristine city on the sea,” said Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District, who’s leading an effort to get cigarette butts off the streets.
The City Council amended Portland’s littering ordinance Monday night to include tobacco products among the trash that’s illegal to throw away on public property. The change, including the $100 fine, will take effect March 7.
Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said he is unaware of any other community in the state that specifically prohibits littering of cigarette butts.
For the most part, smokers in downtown Portland on Tuesday said it’s a good thing.
“It’s making the downtown look nasty,” Felicia Williford, 24, said of the littered cigarette butts. She said she always throws hers in a trash can.
So does Victoria Patriotti. And if there isn’t a trash can nearby, she’ll put the butt of her Marlboro 100 in her pocket.
“It’s like watching somebody throw a bunch of trash out the window. It’s exactly the same thing,” Patriotti, 19, said of throwing butts on the ground.
It’s not just the younger generation of smokers that wants to see a change of habit.
Nicholas Fitzpatrick, who has smoked for most of his 51 years, said he usually throws his butt in a trash can but gets lazy about it when he’s walking around the city. If no one else tossed their butts, he’d stop, too, he said.
That’s an attitude that Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky hopes to see catch on. “Patrons have some responsibility to take care of items such as cigarette butts,” he said.
Portland’s Downtown District pays Bobinsky’s department to clean the streets and sidewalks downtown daily. One problem with cigarette butts is that they get caught in hard-to-sweep places, like the cracks between the cobblestones.
The Public Services Department has purchased a vacuum-like attachment for one of its sidewalk tractors to suck butts out of those cracks. Bobinsky said the department will start using the new equipment within a couple of weeks.
That’s one way Beitzer hopes to cut down on complaints from tourists. She said the only complaint she hears more is about the city’s graffiti.
In the spring, Portland’s Downtown District, with help from the city, will launch a campaign touting the environmental and aesthetic reasons not to litter cigarette butts.
The campaign, to be funded with a $1,000 grant from the national nonprofit Keep America Beautiful, will include signs on trash cans throughout the city and outreach through social media.
Rob Wallace, a spokesman for Keep America Beautiful, said almost every town and city in the country has a litter ordinance, but “there is usually no restriction on what constitutes litter.”
Some smokers said Tuesday that they shy away from using trash cans because they’re afraid of starting a fire. Others said there simply aren’t enough trash cans around.
Beitzer said there’s a trash can on every block – 160 in all – in downtown Portland. “We’re fully covered,” she said.
It doesn’t feel that way to Amber Wellington, 28, who throws her butts on the sidewalk if she’s walking around.
“There isn’t really anywhere better to put them,” she said.
Wellington said she thinks the new ordinance is fair but it won’t completely change her habits. She just won’t flick a cigarette in front of a police officer.
“I would probably be a little more aware of my surroundings,” she said.
Technically, the amendment wasn’t needed for an officer to cite a smoker under the littering ordinance, which now prohibits “any garbage” from being discarded on public property. But Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said that hasn’t been the department’s practice.
“Now, it’s much clearer for everyone involved,” said Sauschuck.
Officers won’t be put on special assignment to seek out smokers who violate the law, but it’s something they will “keep an eye out for,” Sauschuck said.
Cory Weaver, 24, said he doesn’t need a law to feel obligated to throw his cigarette butts in the trash, just as he chooses to recycle.
“It’s a lifestyle choice,” he said, “just like smoking.”
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]