July 9, 2013

In Portland, public-space smokers pay a price

Violators get ticketed, a court date and a possible fine under a city ordinance that seeks to clear the air.

By Karen Antonacci kantonacci@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The Marlboro Red that Dakota Day smoked June 13 would turn out to be her most expensive cigarette to date.

click image to enlarge

A sign stating "Breathe Easy" hangs at Tommy's Park in Portland on Monday, July 8, 2013. It is against the law to smoke in City parks and open spaces.

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From left, Sierra Reed and Alex Hanks, both of Portland, and James Emmons of Windham smoke on a park bench in Tommy's Park in Portland on Monday afternoon, July 8, 2013. Reed says she hadn't even seen the sign posted about no smoking in public places.

Jill Brady / Staff Photographer

The 21-year-old was ticketed for smoking while walking through Tommy's Park in the Old Port in violation of a new city ordinance. She was arraigned in the Cumberland County Courthouse on Monday and, when she admitted to the charge, became the first person ordered to pay a $100 fine under the ordinance. She agreed to pay over a period of five months.

The city agreed to dismiss a complaint against another smoker, Henry Lopes, 52, who said there were no warning signs posted in Longfellow Square, where he was ticketed, and who told the court he would not smoke in city parks again.

A third ticketed person faces arraignment in August.

The ordinance, passed in February, allows police cadets and officers to issue tickets for smoking on city trails, near playgrounds or athletic facilities, and in public parks. The standard fine is $100, but it can range from $50 to $500.

The ordinance requires signs informing people about the rule on city trails and near playgrounds and athletic facilities, but signs in the parks are posted at the city's discretion. The ordinance also says violators should be given a verbal warning before being ticketed.

Day, who declined to give her profession in an interview, said she was unaware of the new ordinance, never saw any signs and that Portland police Cadet Ben Savage, who issued the ticket, failed to warn her ahead of time.

"(The ordinance) is fair now that signs are up, but it wasn't fair when there weren't any signs up," Day said.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg disputed Day's statements. Clegg said the city has documentation of warnings given to Day before she was issued the ticket, and that signs about the ordinance have been posted in the park since late May.

Lopes, of South Portland, was ticketed on June 14 after being warned by Savage three days before.

Lopes chose to deny the charge and said he would not pay any fine during a dispositional conference with Judge E. Mary Kelly, Neighborhood Prosecutor Trish McAllister and law intern Rachel Deschuyther. He also complained about a lack of signs in Longfellow Square.

"I try not to bother anybody, and it just slipped my mind that morning," Lopes said. "Sure, (the cadet) warned me a couple of days before, but I just forgot. Soon as I seen him, I put it out, and if there were signs I would've put it out earlier."

Lopes said he has been smoking at the same spot in Longfellow Square for six years and has been a smoker for 30 years.

After telling Lopes he should try to quit, Judge Kelly asked the city if it would consider dismissing the case. When Lopes affirmed he has stopped smoking in parks, McAllister said the city would dismiss the charge.

"The ordinance is stupid to begin with, which is probably why I forgot about it," said Lopes, who has been unemployed for more than 10 years. "The fine of $100 is out of this world. At most it should be $25 and that's being generous about it."

Business managers in the Tommy's Park area, on the corner of Middle and Exchange streets, said Monday they had seen some effects of the ordinance.

Chelsea Lewis, assistant manager of the Old Port Sandwich Shop, said she has definitely seen fewer smokers in the park.

"There are more people that congregate now around the side of the courthouse," she said, pointing to the U.S. District Court building on nearby Newbury Street. "You know, where there aren't any businesses."

Lewis said she hasn't seen the ordinance affect business much, but she thinks it's a good idea.

"I don't think it's fair that other people can sit and smoke and others have to walk by, especially with children around," said Lewis, who has a 2-year-old daughter.

Judit Tydeman, owner of the Salt Cellar shop, said she would like to see fewer cigarette butts and packages blown into her half-underground stairwell, although they haven't gone away yet.

"I go out twice a day sometimes to pick them up," she said. "It's stayed about the same."

The city has also started handing out tickets for littering, including cigarette butts and packaging. Those tickets can also come with a $100 fine.

Allison Strausberg, assistant manager of Bard Coffee next to Tommy's Park, said she has seen fewer young people hanging out in the park since the ordinance started being enforced. Strausberg theorized that they probably just moved elsewhere.

"It accomplished making the park appear nicer, if that was the goal," she said.

 

Karen Antonacci can be contacted at 791-6329 or at:

kantonacci@pressherald.com

 

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