Camden clears the air by banning smoking in open public spaces

Posted Aug. 09, 2013, at 12:04 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Camden officials want to make the town a much healthier place.

After the Camden Select Board voted July 16 to adopt a policy to prohibit smoking at municipal playgrounds, parks, beaches, athletic facilities, public trails, and public open spaces, Town Manager Patricia Finnigan said Friday that no-smoking signs should be erected in the next couple of weeks.

The board also voted to designate the town as an Active Community Environment, a move that could make Camden eligible for grants to promote healthier lifestyles.

Beth Ward, general manager of the Camden Parks and Recreation Department, said since the tobacco free signs have been posted at the Camden Snow Bowl, people have been gently informed to stop if they are found to be smoking.

“The public will do the education and enforcement for you,” Ward said.

Camden Library Director Nikki Maounis said the library’s board of trustees unanimously voted to back the town-wide ban on smoking in public places, saying it is both a health and cleanliness issue. The library oversees its grounds, the amphitheater and harbor park across the street.

“You can’t have a clean environment if people are smoking and tossing their cigarettes,” Maounis told the Select Board at its meeting last month.

Finnigan said that the prohibition is simply a policy at this point and there are no penalties attached for smoking. The town, however, can enforce the state law that prohibits littering if people toss their cigarette butts on the ground.

She pointed out that the state has approved a law that prohibits smoking on park beaches.

The town manager said that the emphasis in town will be on education.

“We’re hoping for voluntary enforcement,” Finnigan said.

The town can consider, she said, adopting an ordinance with penalties if the policy is not effective. An ordinance, with the force of law, would need to be approved by voters at a town meeting.

Select Board member Leonard Lookner said he has seen the evolution of smoking policies in Maine as a former smoker and former restaurant owner. He said it started by designating a few tables within the restaurant as non-smoking and eventually the state banned smoking at all restaurants. Lookner said he testified before the Legislature in support of the ban.

“This is a fantastic move,” Lookner said of the town policy.

The policy was approved unanimously by the board.

In nearby Rockland, smoking has been prohibited by ordinance at playgrounds, athletic fields, the recreation department and library grounds for at least six years. At places such as Harbor Park, however, it is legal to smoke.

The Camden Select Board also unanimously approved July 16 the designation of the town as an active community. The town’s Downtown Network Board, which consists of downtown business representatives, will serve as the team leader for the community.

The designation makes the town eligible for grants to plan activities that will head to a healthier lifestyle, said Jennifer Gunderman-King who is the midcoast coordinator for community transformation grants. Those grants are part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

She said the town has already made strides with projects such as the proposed Riverwalk along the Megunticook River and to make the town a more pedestrian focused rather than vehicle focused community.

Lookner said he is a strong proponent of such a shift that will lead to an overall improvement in the health of the community.

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