June 18, 2018
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Residents reignite Houlton parks tobacco issue

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

HOULTON, Maine — Two weeks ago, the Town Council snuffed out a proposal that would have banned smoking and the use of tobacco products in the town’s parks.

But residents who attended a council meeting Monday evening reignited the issue, asking councilors to take a second look at what many considered a public health issue.

During its June 8 meeting, the council entertained a proposal that would have banned smoking and the use of all tobacco products in Houlton’s parks. It would have applied to people outdoors in the parks and at the parks inside vehicles.

Berny Reece, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, told councilors the town’s parks and recreation advisory board had been considering the proposal for several years. He added that the board inked the proposal in order to protect people from secondhand smoke.

Councilors decided not to implement the policy, describing smoking as a personal civil liberty. Many also said they had never seen or heard that smoking in the parks was a problem.

On Monday evening, however, smokers and nonsmokers urged them to rethink their decision.

Martha Bell, who is the Healthy Maine Partnership’s district coordinator for the Houlton and Presque Isle area, urged councilors to think about the overall population in town and also the youth in Houlton.

She said she felt that adults need to serve as role models for youth, adding that a tobacco-free policy is a good way to illustrate the health benefits of living a tobacco-free life.

Bell also said the council needed to think of the civil liberties of the approximately 6,500 Houlton residents.

“Keep in mind that families congregate in parks and consider their rights, too,” Bell said.

She also told councilors that she had heard from smokers who supported a tobacco-free park policy.

Eileen McLaughlin, the school nurse at Houlton Elementary School, expressed disappointment with the councilors for not implementing the policy and prodded them to reconsider.

McLaughlin noted that 53 students in the elementary school alone suffer from asthma that is triggered by secondhand smoke. She told councilors she recently attended a ball game in Community Park where she witnessed three adults smoking.

She also touched on the civil liberties issue, acknowledging that an adult has the right to smoke, but she and others also have a right not to breathe it in.

“Don’t shelve this issue,” McLaughlin urged councilors.

Another resident who confessed to being a smoker also addressed the council, saying she supported the tobacco-free policy, and two other people also voiced support for it.

Councilor Nancy Ketch told fellow councilors that she believed the proposal should be put on the agenda so a public hearing could be held to take comments from residents.

Chairman Paul Cleary told attendees he had received phone calls from residents who told him they felt the council had made the right decision by opting not to implement the policy.

No formal decision about revisiting the issue was made by councilors during the meeting.

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