On top of all the other challenges drive-in theater owners face these days, from bad weather to the cost of updating aging equipment, the Maine Attorney General’s Office is now telling them that their patrons aren’t supposed to smoke, even in their cars.

In a letter dated May 26, drive-in owners were notified that the office “has received various compliance concerns” about drive-ins not complying with the state’s 2009 law banning smoking at commercial outdoor eating areas. An outdoor eating area is defined as “a patio, deck or other property that is partially enclosed or open to the sky” where people have access to “dining and beverage service.” The letter mentions fines of less than $100 for a violation but as much as $1,500 in cases where there is a pattern of not making an effort to comply with the law.

Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the letter was prompted by one “question/complaint” from a drive-in customer and was written because staff determined that drive-ins were “probably not educated” about how the state’s smoke-free laws affect them.

The letter caused a flurry of reaction on the Facebook page of the Bridgton Twin Drive-In Theatre. Some people said they were upset because the freedom to smoke in their car was a big reason they go to the drive-in. But others said they were happy about the law because they didn’t like secondhand smoke wafting into their car. There will be one designated area where smokers can stand. People there can see both screens but will not be able to hear anything.

Bridgton Twin owner John S. Tevanian, son of Prides Corner Drive-In founder John Tevanian, said he let customers know about the smoking ban via Facebook on June 1 so they would know ahead of time what to expect this year. He said he had no idea drive-ins were supposed to be smoke-free outside of restroom and concession buildings, but said he will comply with the law by notifying customers and telling people who smoke on the premises to stop. In an answer to a post on Facebook, he said he would call police if someone was smoking at the drive-in and refused to stop.

Tevanian said he’s long believed that “one of the positives” of going to a drive-in is the freedom to do things – talk or make a phone call, for instance – that are not acceptable at indoor theaters. He says he’s not sure whether the new policy will mean he’ll lose customers.

“We might lose some smokers, but we might gain some people who stopped going and now want to come back,” Tevanian said. “It’s an unknown at this point.”


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