2014-03-14 / Community

Tobacco use going up in smoke at fort

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — A proposal to ban smoking at Fort Williams Park, in the works since last fall, moved one step closer to implementation at the March 10 town council meeting.

Monday’s first reading of an amendment to Cape Elizabeth’s miscellaneous offenses ordinance, which would impose a $250 fine for the use of any tobacco product within the historic 80-acre park, will get a public hearing and final vote at the Monday, April 14 town council meeting.

The town council first received the recommendation to ban smoking, proposed by the seven-member Fort Williams Advisory Commission, at the council’s Nov. 6 meeting. The advisory committee had adopted the concept unanimously in October.

The council passed the proposal on to its ordinance subcommittee, where it took a back seat to ongoing work on a shooting range ordinance. The three-member committee finally voted on the smoking ban policy at its Feb. 7 meeting, where testimony was received from Opportunity Alliance, one of 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships formed out of the 2,000 multi-state settlement with the tobacco industry.

According to Town Planner Maureen O’Meara, by a unanimous vote the committee created a list of definitions for a draft ordinance amendment. That list added electronic cigarettes to the litany of tobacco products to be banned from the park. The newly created definition for “smoking” also prohibits “carrying of . . . any other tobacco product,” including chewing tobacco and snuff.

This is not the first time officials have attempted to ban smoking at the historic 80- acre park, which includes the iconic Portland Head Light.

According to Public Works Director Bob Malley, the idea for a smoking ban in Fort Williams Park was first presented “five or six years ago” by two former town councilors. The advisory commission voted not to pursue such a policy then, Malley said, because “there wasn’t enough energy to move it forward at the time.”

In a Sept. 23, 2008, memo to the town council, the advisory commission noted that it has voted unanimously “to recommend that we deal with this issue under our current ‘carry-in, carry-out’ litter policy by placing some additional signage in the problem areas and monitor the results.”

“If this does not improve the situation, we will look at some other steps before looking at the need for an ordinance,” the memo read.

Ultimately, the council moved ahead on a proposal to ban smoking in the park, but deadlocked 3-3 in an Oct. 15, 2008, vote, killing the idea.

But, as Bill Brownell, chairman of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission noted at a September 2013 meeting, times have changed.

“I think it’s something that deserves our attention now,” he said, pointing to Portland’s no-smoking policy in all of its public parks. “We have a leash policy. We have a no-alcohol policy. We have a carry-in, carry-out policy. All of them have been very well followed. I can’t imagine this would create much of an issue.”

Any smoking ban would be park-wide, including rental properties on Officers’ Row. The policy would be provided to tour bus drivers to prevent tourists from lighting up when deboarding at the lighthouse.

According to Malley, park rangers at Fort Williams “do not have enforcement authority” and wouldn’t be able to cite anyone who violates the policy, if adopted.

Instead, commissioners said, they would largely depend on the ban to be “self-policing,” with park patrons pointing out the rules to violators.

“If this were to come to fruition, would we be going up and pulling cigarettes out of people’s mouths?” Malley asked, rhetorically. “No. But you’d have to have some signage to send a message, and do it tastefully and appropriately. There would be an educational learning curve.”

Smoking already is prohibited at state parks and beaches, including Crescent Beach State Park.

In July 2011, South Portland enacted a ban on the use of tobacco products within 25 feet of all 21 parks, beaches and outdoor recreation facilities owned or operated by the city, including the municipal golf course on Wescott Road. The move came after members of the South Portland High School Interact Club collected more than 1,000 cigarette butts during a one-hour excursion to Willard Beach.

Malley has said the problem is not quite so serious at Fort Williams, referring only to “some butts” found on beaches, paths and parking lots. However, on Monday Malley said curbing litter is one primary aim of the new ordinance.

The South Portland smoking ban carries a fine of $100 for the first use in a public space of a tobacco product, $250 for the second offense and $500 for each subsequent violation.

However, an amendment added at the request of Police Chief Edward Googins proclaims that, “Nothing in this ordinance shall prevent the enforcement agent from obtaining voluntary compliance by way of warning, notice or education.”

That mirrors the approach in Scarborough, which also enacted a ban on smoking within 25 feet of public beaches in 2011. Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton has said enforcement of his town’s ban amounts to “mainly relying on peer pressure to help convince people to obey the restriction.”

Scarborough fines start at $100 for each offense, up to a maximum of $500.

If the no-smoking ordinance is adopted as proposed in Cape Elizabeth, fines for smoking in Fort Williams Park would be set at $250 per day of infraction.

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