PORTLAND — The city once again has smoking in its cross hairs — this time in private clubs and public parks.
The City Council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee will take up proposals tonight to ban smoking in those places.
In recent years, Portland has made it harder to smoke in public. In 2008, it enacted a ban on smoking within 20 feet of playgrounds, athletic fields and beaches. It also prohibited smoking in outdoor seating areas of restaurants before 10 p.m., if the restaurants are still serving food.
Now, officials are looking to ban smoking in public parks and private/fraternal clubs, such as the American Legion, Eagles and Elks.
City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg didn’t immediately know how many private clubs would be affected, but said she expects the committee will direct the city’s staff to collect more information before it votes on any proposal.
“This is the first conversation the committee is going to have,” Clegg said.
While the Portland Elks Club bills itself as a nonsmoking club, the American Legion post on Deering Street allows smoking, said Joe Rich, the group’s finance officer.
State law permits private clubs that existed before Jan. 1, 2004, to allow smoking indoors if it is approved by a majority of club members. A vote must be held every three years, and employees must agree to work in a club that allows smoking.
Rich said American Legion members voted about six months ago to continue to allow smoking. “It was a very close vote,” he said.
The latest ban is being proposed in response to a complaint that Councilor Edward Suslovic got from a constituent, according to a memo to the committee.
Suslovic, the committee chairman, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
“The constituent asked Councilor Suslovic if the city can legally prohibit smoking in a club’s facility despite the exception in the state law,” city attorney Gary Wood wrote in the memo. “The answer to that question is ‘Yes.’ “
Rich said he was informed of the proposed ban by City Hall and plans to attend the meeting at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall to learn more.
He suggested that further restrictions aren’t needed.
“It is a private club and we are abiding by the Maine state laws and we would probably want to continue doing that,” he said.
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