June 25, 2018
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Bangor panel debates tobacco limits in city parks

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — If a proposal by Bangor’s Wellness Committee is approved, there may be no butts about it when it comes to smoking on city park land.

Members of the Bangor City Council’s parks, recreation and harbor committee wrangled over the idea — and possible implementation — of a policy limiting or banning the use of tobacco products in city parks Monday afternoon.

Not everyone present at the meeting was in favor of any blanket resolutions, rule changes or ordinance enactments. Councilor James Gallant had reservations about any changes not involving input from smokers and nonsmokers alike.

Parks and Recreation director Tracy Willette introduced the Wellness Committee proposal to ban the use of tobacco products in parks to the council committee, which had 10 members present.

“This particular concept, like many others over the years, will get some good discussion about what we think will best succeed here, short- and long-term, and there are several options we can evaluate individually to determine what fits and what won’t,” said Willette. “Our initial approach was to bring this up formally and then follow this meeting up with another meeting.”

The next meeting, tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 21 or 28, will be a public workshop involving the parks, recreation and harbor committee and Bangor’s Public Health Advisory Board. It also will be open to smokers and smokers’ rights groups to weigh in on any possible public policy.

“Do we decide to go through an entire citywide ordinance, do we decide to take the approach of a citywide resolution or do we create an ordinance designating certain parts of parks as tobacco-free and some not?” said Willette, who used the city’s leash law as an example of the latter option, which allows for dogs off leashes on certain trails and park areas such as Cascade Park, Brown Woods and Prentiss Woods.

“We’ll try to develop a couple of concepts at the workshop to bring to the council committee for discussion,” Willette added. “We’re very early in the process and will give plenty of opportunity for folks to weigh in along the way, and I think it’ll be a good discussion to have.”

Gallant said he wasn’t comfortable enacting any kind of policy regarding tobacco use without involving both sides of the issue, meaning that smokers and smokers advocacy groups should be included in the discussion.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ban anything if you only have those from one side involved in the process,” Gallant told fellow committee members.

Shawn Yardley, Bangor’s Health and Community Services director, said the city has to frame the issue and take a position, either with a phased-in approach or an ordinance.

“This isn’t about being against the smoker,” Yardley said. “What we are is for the health of everyone, so we want to frame this in a way that protects everybody’s right to breathe clean air without denying someone’s right to find some way to smoke.”

Gallant also had reservations about the viability of enforcing any restrictions, be they through an ordinance, resolution or other form.

“His concern from the beginning was about enforcement,” Yardley said. “My point is I don’t think that necessarily has to drive this because there’s a cost to the city in cleaning up after smokers with butts and tobacco products left behind.”

Yardley, a former smoker who quit 23 years ago, has a personal preference when it comes to what form he would like city policy to take.

“We’ve been successful at the Folk Festival in limiting where people can smoke and people have been really, really good about that, but that wouldn’t be my preference,” he said. “My preference would be to be clear with an ordinance and be strategic in enforcement of that through signs and training to help people intervene and remind people about smoking restrictions.”

A phased-in approach could involve designating certain parks as ones where smoking is allowed and others — where children are regularly present — as ones where it isn’t.

“When I first began my career, you could smoke at your desk,” said Yardley. “And then you could smoke in certain areas of the office. Then it was only outside, and then it was beyond 50 feet of the building. I’m confident that, over time, things will change.”

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