PORTLAND – A City Council committee voted Thursday to recommend that the council ban smoking in all public parks but declined to pursue a ban for private clubs.

Banning smoking in all city-owned and maintained parks would “basically complete” Portland’s restrictions on smoking near playgrounds, athletic fields and beaches, said Councilor Edward Suslovic, chairman of the Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee.

The city also bans smoking in outdoor seating areas of restaurants before 10 p.m. if food is still being served.

Despite their unanimous support for the smoking ban in parks, committee members decided against pursuing a proposal to prohibit smoking in private/fraternal clubs such as the American Legion, Eagles and Elks.

State law permits private clubs that existed before Jan. 1, 2004, to allow smoking indoors if it is approved by a majority of club members. A vote must be held every three years, and employees must agree to work in a club that allows smoking.

About a dozen members of fraternal organizations, many wearing hats from their posts, attended Thursday’s meeting to urge councilors to allow them to maintain control over their clubs.

“We are a private organization. We earned this right,” said Steven Sanpedro, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Deering Memorial Post. “Let us make the decision and continue to follow the state law.”

Sanpedro said club members and employees vote every three years to allow smoking in the club. Smoking is prohibited during any event that includes people who are not club members.

None of the VFW members who attended the meeting smoke, he said, but all support the club’s right to choose.

Marshall Archer, a member of the Deering Memorial Post, said the issue boils down to choice.

“I made the choice to join a VFW. I made the choice to join a VFW post that allows smoking,” he said. “I could have joined one that doesn’t allow smoking.”

Mark Reilly, a Portland resident who’s a former commander of the Deering Memorial Post, said he contacted Suslovic about banning smoking in private clubs. He said he felt he had to quit his job as a deejay at the post because of exposure to secondhand smoke, and feels that others should be protected.

“It’s not safe for me to work in that environment,” said Reilly, who said his parents and sister died of lung cancer.

Andy Ford of Portland said “it seems odd in the year 2012 this would actually be an issue.

“It seems to me employees of private clubs should have the same rights in terms of being protected from the hazards of secondhand smoke as other employees,” he said.

After a half-hour of public comment, Councilors John Coyne and Jill Duson said the state law adequately addresses the issue of smoking in private clubs.

“I look at this as government getting into something we don’t need to,” Coyne said. “I just don’t think the city really has a role in it.”

Suslovic said he also prefers to see clubs deal with the issue privately, but urged them to reconsider permitting smoking.

“It does concern me that in virtually every other workplace, employees are guaranteed the right to breathe clean air,” he said.

No one spoke against extending Portland’s smoking ban to city parks.

Rhonda Vosmus, a Maine Medical Center employee who is involved with the American Lung Association, urged the committee to extend the smoking ban to protect people from secondhand smoke.

“Portland’s parks belong to all residents, not just the smokers,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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