CAPE ELIZABETH — Fort Williams Park, home of Portland Head Light and a popular summer destination for tourists and locals, may become southern Maine’s next smoking-free zone.
The Cape Elizabeth Town Council will take comments from the public starting at 7 p.m. Monday at Town Hall on a proposal to ban smoking in the town-owned park. Anyone caught smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, or using e-cigarettes, would be subject to a $250 fine. If approved, the ban would be in place by summer.
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 supports a ban because of concerns about secondhand smoke and littering, said its chairman, William Brownell.
The council’s Ordinance Committee also voted unanimously to support the ban.
“It’s always been on our radar to revisit this at some time,” Brownell said. “We want to make sure the area is kept clean for visitors and people are not exposed to secondhand smoke.”
Brownell said this is an especially good time to talk about a smoking ban because of new improvements at the park, including an arboretum and the cliffside walk. In addition, a children’s garden has been designed and approved by the council.
“That will attract more younger people and I think this is another reason we should address this at this time,” Brownell said.
On Saturday, a warm and sunny early spring weekend, the park was packed even though it was too early in the year for tour buses. Vehicles mostly with Maine license plates squeezed into the parking lots. Kites fluttered above. Frisbees whizzed across fields. Children squealed and dogs barked.
There were few smokers in sight at the 90-acre park, which more than 800,000 people visit annually. The lawns and sidewalks, freshly raked and swept after a long winter, appeared mostly free of cigarette butts.
Whether they smoked or not, people interviewed at the park Saturday were divided in their opinions about a possible smoking ban. Those in favor were concerned about the effects of secondhand smoke, while those opposed said it would be another blow to personal rights.
“I’m all for it. Lock them up,” said Eric Levine of South Portland, who uses the park three or four times a week.
Chris Jones of Old Orchard Beach, puffing on a cigarette, said a smoking ban would be good and he would happily comply should the Cape Elizabeth Town Council approve one. He then extinguished his cigarette and placed the butt back in the pack.
His roommate, Paul Bryant, a former smoker, said he supports a ban.
“This should not be a place where parents should have to worry about smoke harming their children,” Bryant said.
Others said a ban and $250 fine would go too far.
Jenn Worthley of Windham, a nonsmoker, said she has visited the park for years and has never been bothered by other people smoking.
“At what point does it stop when it comes to telling people what they can or cannot do?” Worthley said.
Nick Saunders of Portland, a smoker, said a parkwide ban would encroach too far on his personal freedom. He said the town should establish a designated smoking area in the park, just as there are areas for walking dogs off-leash and picnicking.
“It would be a happy medium for everybody,” Saunders said.
Kristi Leidemann of Westbrook, a nonsmoker, said she is ambivalent about the proposed ban. She said there are not a lot of places left where people can smoke.
“There is a lot of fresh air here, and there have got to be a lot of places where you can’t smoke,” Leidemann said.
If the ban is approved, Fort Williams would join a growing list of public spaces in Maine where smoking is no longer allowed.
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.
Smoking bans only go so far when it comes to persuading smokers to refrain from lighting up in public places. Cigarette butts still litter sidewalks in Portland and proliferate in the sand at Willard Beach in South Portland.
Rachel Wenzel of Portland, a self-described social smoker, said a ban on smoking at Fort Williams would be difficult to enforce.
“It would work maybe 75 percent of the time,” she said.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: