PORTLAND – The city is considering a sweeping ban on outdoor smoking that would include the city’s parks and many of its open spaces and squares, sharply limiting where smokers can light up outdoors.

The proposal is currently in limbo because the city lacks a formal definition of “open space.” But the chair of the City Council committee that has drawn up the ban said that issue will be surmounted later this month and the proposal is expected to go before the full council in October.

Smokers say they are rapidly running out of spaces where they can smoke, but proponents of the ban said the health effects of secondhand smoke are so great that it makes sense to constrain where smoking is allowed.

Jay Young said he’s a good example of someone with limited options for where to smoke. His apartment in Westbrook is in a smoke-free building. Most of the places he goes are public buildings where smoking is not allowed. And almost all the bars and restaurants in the state are smoke-free.

So his opinion on a proposal to ban smoking in city-owned parks and open spaces in Portland is not surprising.

“I think that sucks,” he said of the proposed ban while bicycling — and smoking — in Deering Oaks. “Where else do you have left? You’ve got out here.”

The proposal was expected to be taken up by the Portland City Council on Wednesday but was instead referred back to the Public Safety Committee because of the definition problem.

But once that detail is settled, committee chairman Ed Suslovic said the city’s direction is clear.

“I feel like the city has already said that the right to breathe clean air trumps smokers’ rights,” Suslovic said. “In the public opinion battle, the smokers are not winning.”

Portland is far from alone in seeking to control where smoking is allowed, both indoors and out.

Most states have laws banning smoking in public buildings and 625 communities have laws banning smoking in parks.

“It’s certainly a growing trend,” said Cynthia Howard, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, which advocates for tougher laws on where smokers can light up.

Howard said Arcata, Calif., was the first community to limit outdoor smoking by banning it in a city plaza in 1997. Within years, other towns and cities did likewise, with New York City adopting a ban in parks and “pedestrian plazas,” such as Times Square.

Howard said the bans show that limiting the health risks from secondhand smoke is paramount.

“There is no constitutional right to smoke,” she said. “There is no protected class in terms of people who smoke.”

Portland already prohibits smoking in most places, including within 25 feet of playgrounds, beaches or athletic fields. The state also prohibits smoking in most areas of state parks and on state beaches.

Howard noted that her organization is launching a campaign to create smoke-free campuses at colleges around the country — and last week, the University of Southern Maine’s new president, Theodora Kalikow, said that college will be tobacco-free by Jan. 1.

Nonsmokers in Portland seem to be generally in favor of either banning people from smoking in parks or restricting where they can smoke in a park.

Mollyrae Bock of Portland said she favors a ban, partly to maintain the clean air and partly to reduce the litter of cigarette butts.

She said that even walking outside with someone who’s smoking leaves one smelling like cigarette smoke, adding “and that’s not attractive,” while shooting a glance at her friend Kaitlen MacDonald, a smoker, as the two strolled through Deering Oaks.

But Bock said her sister once got a ticket in a Pennsylvania park for smoking, and that seemed heavy-handed to her.

She also said it seems unreasonable to tell someone they’re barred from smoking both in the park and on the sidewalk across the street.

Alex Bailey of Portland, a University of Southern Maine student and smoker, said the perception of smokers as uncaring about others’ sensitivity to smoke is unfair.

“I walk through the park every day to go to school and I try to be mindful of other people,” she said. “If there’s a family walking by, I’m not going to light up in front of them.”

She said a public park ought to be inviting to a wide range of people, including smokers.

“I want to be able to walk through the park and this is part of my routine,” Bailey said. “It’s a little irksome that someone else is going to tell me I can’t do it.”

In Monument Square, Delinda Carpenter of Portland said she thinks smoking is “disgusting,” but she wasn’t ready to say all smokers should stay out.

“If we could do away with the cigarette butts, maybe they could just smoke in one part of the square,” she said. “But completely banning it? I don’t know. That is taking away their civil rights.”

Nearby, Derek Clary of Standish was smoking during a brief break from his job at the Cobblestones restaurant.

Banning smoking in Monument Square, he said, would mean “I’m quitting.”

Smoking, that is, not the job.

“I don’t have time to go around the block” to find a place to smoke, he said.

Banning it completely, he added, “sounds a little over the top,” but he said he also understands why many people object to smoking, over concerns about secondhand smoke and the litter of cigarette butts.

But Steve White, another cigarette smoker, said he doesn’t understand why people would object to him lighting up in Tommy’s Park.

“It’s really going too far to say you can’t smoke in the great outdoors,” he said, noting that he takes care to sit apart from people who are eating in the park when he lights up.

White said he’s been driven from restaurants and most bars by the ban on smoking and now only goes to bars where he can smoke and drink outside on a rooftop or patio.

“You should be able to smoke cigarettes outdoors except if it’s a children’s park,” he said. “But I guess it’s become an anti-smoking world.”

Suslovic said he expects the city staff to come up with some definitions of open space for the committee to consider before its next meeting on Sept. 20.

He did say it’s unlikely to include sidewalks, but didn’t want to speculate about wide walkways, like the one running between Monument Square and Free Street.

And he said that even this measure is unlikely to be the end of city efforts to regulate outside smoking, noting that residents and business owners near bus stops complain about the accumulation of cigarette butts on the sidewalks, and the committee may take a look at that issue in the future.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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