HOULTON, Maine — Town councilors on Monday opted to butt out of involvement in what some argued was a personal civil liberty by refusing to designate municipal parks as tobacco-free areas.
During a nearly two-hour meeting, the council weighed the tobacco-free proposal, which was put forth by the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
The proposal would have banned smoking and use of tobacco products in all of the town’s parks. It would have applied to people both outdoors in the parks and at the parks inside vehicles.
Berny Reece, director of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, told councilors that the advisory board had been considering the proposal for several years.
“We are not after the smokers,” he said. “We are trying to protect people from secondhand smoke.”
Councilors focused their discussion mainly on smoking in the parks.
Houlton resident Phil Bernaiche objected to the proposal, as did several councilors.
“I am against this,” Chairman Paul Cleary said. “You are restricting people.”
“If I am sitting alone in a car watching a game [at a park], who am I bothering?” he asked aloud. Cleary said that he does not smoke.
Councilor John Fitzpatrick agreed, as did Councilor Brian Donnelly.
“I don’t feel comfortable voting to legislate the rights of an adult,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly added that he often visits town parks and rarely sees anyone smoking, adding that adults can easily ask someone who is smoking around their child to stop.
Councilor Paul Romanelli, who also is a physician, stressed that smoking is “one of the worst things you can do for your health,” but said that he did not want to tell adults what to do or put another task upon area police.
Several councilors agreed with Donnelly, saying that they had never seen or heard that smoking in the parks was a problem.
Reece told councilors that other towns and cities in the state have similar policies in place.
Councilor Walter Goodrich agreed that such a policy would be difficult to enforce, but said that “it looks good for the town.”
“It would have some positive effects,” he said.
Goodrich also said that someone who is smoking on the bleachers affects other people sitting on the bleachers watching a ballgame in Community Park.
Police Chief Butch Asselin said that should the town decide to create such an ordinance, it would be enforced as well as possible. He said that police would not be out on “smoke patrol,” but said that officers would stop smoking in the parks if they saw it.
As a number of councilors said that they had not heard any complaints from residents about the issue, they opted not to take action on the proposal.