CAPE ELIZABETH — The only thing lighting up in Fort Williams Park this summer will be Portland Head Light.
Legally, that is.
The Cape Elizabeth Town Council voted 6-1 Monday night to ban smoking and tobacco products from the popular seaside park, home to the iconic lighthouse.
“There are cigarette butts all over the park,” said Councilor David Sherman, who voted in favor. “I think it’s somewhat socially acceptable that if you’re smoking, you just flip the butt. … I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s showing disrespect for a very beautiful place.”
Starting in 30 days, when the new ordinance takes effect, anyone caught smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes could be subject to a $250 fine.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said such fines will be rare, however, because town staff will instead ask people to voluntarily put out their cigarettes or cigars. Fines will only be needed if a park guest refuses or becomes belligerent, he said.
“Like with most ordinances like this, we look for voluntary cooperation,” McGovern said.
Park visitors asked about the possible ban last weekend were split on the idea, with some smokers lamenting that it was becoming hard to find legal places to light up.
There was little debate at the council meeting, although Councilor Martha “Molly” MacAuslan voted against the limit. She did not say why she voted no, but had earlier asked whether the town might try ways to discourage smoking before banning it.
Before passing the ordinance, the council dissected the language to ensure that it restricts the lighting up of smoking products while not unintentionally outlawing the ignition of barbecue grills or the ovens and grills used by food vendors.
The ban is unusual because it covers e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered devices that look like cigarettes but deliver nicotine in a vapor rather than smoke. While e-cigarettes do not produce smoke or litter the way cigarettes do, it would be too difficult to enforce the ban against one and not the other, said Councilor Katharine Ray.
Scott Clark, a town resident who uses an e-cigarette, urged the council to exempt the cigarette-like vaporizers, saying they don’t have secondary effects on other people.
“You’re not taking into account people like myself who are trying to quit (smoking),” he said.
Councilor Jamie Wagner pointed out that vapor from e-cigarettes does carry nicotine and may not be entirely harmless to other people. “The science is somewhat inconclusive,” he said.
Including e-cigarettes in the ban puts Cape Elizabeth on the cutting edge, said Jana Thompson, an anti-smoking and public health advocate with The Opportunity Alliance, a Portland-based nonprofit. She said other communities that have smoking bans are now talking about adding e-cigarettes to their bans, in part because of the enforcement challenge.
Cape Elizabeth now joins more than 70 Maine communities that ban smoking in parks or other public spaces, Thompson said.
“People who choose not to smoke have a right to be in the public places without breathing secondhand smoke,” she said.
In 2008, the council rejected a similar ban in favor of posting signs asking people to refrain from smoking in the park. However, the Fort Williams Advisory Commission unanimously supported the ban because of continuing concerns about secondhand smoke and littering, said its chairman, William Brownell.
Brownell told councilors it’s a common sight for a tour bus to pull up to the lighthouse and for passengers to pile off and immediately light up cigarettes.
The Portland City Council banned smoking in city parks, plazas and open spaces in 2013, following earlier moves to prohibit smoking within 25 feet of where food is being served and within 25 feet of city-owned or city-maintained trails, beaches, athletic fields and playgrounds.
Many college campuses across the state have banned or heavily restricted tobacco use. The University of Maine in Orono decided to go tobacco-free in 2011.
Smoking hasn’t been allowed in state parks and historic sites since 2009. Cities and towns have followed suit. South Portland banned smoking at city beaches and parks in 2012.
John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: