January 8, 2013

Where there's smoke, there may be a city ban

Public health officials propose to ban smoking in prominent public spaces like Monument Square in an effort to limit exposure to secondhand smoke.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Logan Cooper, 18, grabbing a smoke with friends near the Portland Public Library on Monday, was indignant to hear about a sweeping ban on smoking proposed for the city’s parks and many other public spaces. 

click image to enlarge

Jason Lemay, 26, of Portland, smokes a cigarette in Monument Square late Monday afternoon. Lemay says he is opposed to a proposed smoking ban in Monument Square and many other public spaces.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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A group of friends, left to right, Elizabeth Sines, River Lenard, Dex Robbins and Logan Cooper, smoke together outside the Portland Public Library on Monday. They say they are against a proposed smoking ban in Monument Square.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s public property. If I’m outside, nobody tells me whether I have the right to smoke.”

On the other side of Congress Street, in Monument Square, April Hoonhout, 26, sat on a bench smoking a cigarette. She said she supports the proposed ban.

Making Monument Square a smoke-free area, for example, would make it more attractive for families and less of a hangout for smokers, she said.

Some of those arguments might come up Tuesday night, when the City Council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee takes up the proposed ban.

The committee unanimously endorsed the proposal last summer, but the City Council sent the measure back to committee and asked that it develop a better definition for the parks and public spaces that would be covered.

The staff of the city’s Public Health Division is now recommending that smoking be banned in the parks where a permit is required for a public function, such as Tommy’s Park, Post Office Park, Monument Park and Lincoln Park.

The staff also recommends that the ban apply to Oatnuts Park, University Park, Heseltine Park, the Presumspcot River Preserve and the Valley Street and Quarry Run dog parks.

While Portland has been a leader in Maine in efforts to limit exposure to secondhand smoke, numerous other municipalities have already passed ordinances making public parks smoke-free, including Falmouth, Scarborough, Westbrook and South Portland, according to Doug Gardner, director of Portland’s Health and Human Services Department.

The proposal for Portland would establish a $50 fine for smoking in a prohibited area, although Gardner said enforcement likely wouldn’t be a problem because smokers would comply voluntarily if there were visible signs.

Portland now prohibits smoking within 25 feet of playgrounds, beaches and athletic fields. Gardner said he’s not aware of police ever citing anyone for smoking in a prohibited area.

Nationally, more than 700 municipalities have banned smoking in municipal parks, and the laws are “self-enforcing,” said Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

“We rarely hear of a citation,” he said.

In 2011, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a measure that bans smoking in New York City’s parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas such as Times Square.

The law is widely disregarded in Times Square, said Audrey Silk, a retired New York City police officer who is the founder of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, a nationally active grass-roots smokers’ rights organization.

The ban also applies to the beach and amusement park at Coney Island.

“I was there this past summer,” Silk said. “I counted 18 smokes in a two-block radius. One of them was a cop.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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