In this Jan. 7, 2012 file photo, Jason Lemay, 26, of Portland, smokes a cigarette in Monument Square. The Portland City Council on Monday, Feb. 5, 2013 voted to ban smoking in 36 city parks and open spaces, including Monument Square.
By Randy Billings
PORTLAND – The City Council on Monday voted to ban smoking in 36 city parks and open spaces, including Monument Square.
The ban is intended to protect people from second-hand smoke, said City Councilor Edward Suslovic, who leads the Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee.
"The purpose of this is not to punish smokers," Suslovic said. "The purpose of this is to protect nonsmokers from exposure to second-hand smoke."
The ban, which takes effect March 6, does not apply to sidewalks abutting the parks outlined in the city code, but it does apply to benches within those parks.
Smoking is already prohibited within 20 feet of playgrounds, beaches and athletic fields, including the Riverside Golf Course.
The ordinance bans smoking in parks where a permit is required for a public function, such as Tommy's Park, Post Office Park, Monument Square, Deering Oaks park and Lincoln Park.
Smoking also will not be allowed on the Eastern or Western promenades.
Other popular spots that will be affected include Baxter Woods, Bell Buoy Park, Capisic Pond Park, Lobsterman Park, Longfellow Square, Payson Park and University Park.
The ban also applies to Oat Nuts Park, Heseltine Park and Presumpscot River Preserve, the Valley Street and Quarry Run dog parks, and others.
Violators could be subject to a $50 fine after receiving a warning.
Officials expect the ordinance will be self-enforcing once signs are installed and the public educated, said Trish McAllister, the city's neighborhood prosecutor.
"This is really an education issue," McAllister said.
The harmful effects of second-hand smoke are well-documented, said Tina Pettingill, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association.
"It's a toxin that is more deadly than asbestos, arsenic, lead and many other things we regulate closely," she said, noting that tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death and disease.
Pettingill said other communities were looking for leadership from Portland, as they did when Portland was the first community in the state to ban smoking in bars and outdoor seating areas.
"What you guys are doing is important," she said. "It's important you take this stand because it will embolden other communities to follow you."
Several residents testified against the ban.
Gwen Tuttle, a social worker, questioned its intent. If the city wants people to stop smoking, then it should invest money in cessation programs, Tuttle said.
"Additional legislation doesn't make sense in this case," she said.
State Street resident Kevin Casey said the ordinance puts the council on a slippery slope. While second-hand smoke is harmful, so are peanut butter and other foods for people with food allergies, he said.
"Eating these and similar foods is every bit as invasive to people with these allergies as second-hand smoke may be to nonsmokers," Casey said.
Other municipalities have already passed ordinances making public parks smoke-free, including Falmouth, Scarborough, Westbrook and South Portland.
Nationally, more than 700 cities and towns have banned smoking in municipal parks, and the laws are "self-enforcing," Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, told the Press Herald last month.
In 2011, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a law that bans smoking in the city's parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas such as Times Square.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to tighten its policy for giving tax breaks to developers.
Tax Increment Financing in Portland has largely been used to help developers pay down the debt on specific projects.
The new policy places a greater emphasis on neighborhood-wide redevelopment zones, meaning the city would invest that money on area infrastructure improvements, such as roadways, sidewalks and utilities.
The city could still grant property-specific TIFs, but there would be limits.
Developers would be allowed to get back a maximum of 65 percent of property taxes from new development over 20 years.
The Portland Community Chamber and the Maine Real Estate Development Association previously opposed placing limits on TIFs.
But on Monday night, both spoke in support, saying it was a reasonable compromise.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: