The Bangor City Council is considering a proposal to ban smoking at city parks, recreational facilities and open spaces. This is long overdue.
Some council members, however, are concerned that a ban at all city-owned parks and recreational facilities, which include the Bangor Municipal Golf Course and downtown squares, would be too drastic. The city solicitor has drafted a proposal to ban smoking at city parks but to exempt the golf course and West Market Square in downtown Bangor. This is counterproductive.
West Market Square has become a downtown hub, filled with restaurants with outdoor seating where smoking is prohibited. Yet smokers congregating just a few feet away in the middle of the square send their secondhand smoke wafting over people enjoying an al fresco dinner or drinks. This isn’t something Bangor leaders should want to continue.
Further, council members are either concerned about the health effects of smoking or they are not. A proposal to phase in a ban, beginning with a smoking prohibition at parks with playgrounds, appeared to have broad support among councilors at a Monday meeting of the Government Operations Committee. However, banning smoking only at some parks will lead to confusion, and it will limit the public health benefits of a ban.
A complete ban, which Portland has had in place since 2013, including at the city-owned Riverside Golf Course, would be easier to understand and enforce. Best of all, it would bring the most health benefits to bear. In order to be most effective, the ban should cover all tobacco use.
The town of Bowdoinham recently enacted a resolution making all town-owned parks and recreational facilities tobacco free. The town’s selectmen adopted the resolution because of concerns about the health of community residents, especially children.
“There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In children, exposure to secondhand smoke is linked to more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory and ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome. Heart disease, stroke and lung cancer are linked to secondhand smoke exposure among adults.
Nonsmokers suffer 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year because of the effects of secondhand smoke, the CDC reports. Secondhand smoke exposure also increases stroke risk by up to 30 percent.
Smoking adds significantly to American health care costs, which already exceed those of the U.S.’s peer nations. Between 2000 and 2012, according to the American Cancer Society, $133 billion was spent to address smoking-related health care problems in the United States, far surpassing Canada, China and France. Each pack of cigarettes increases individual health care spending by $35, the group calculated.
In Maine, more than $800 million is spent each year to treat smoking related ailments.
Maine’s adult smoking rate — 19 percent — is well above the national average of 15 percent, highlighting the need for additional, stronger efforts to curb smoking and tobacco use.
For these reasons, smoking is already banned in many public places, including stores; restaurants, inside and out; and state parks, beaches and historic sites. Smoking is also prohibited at the Bangor State Fair.
Adding Bangor’s public spaces to the list makes sense.
The public appears supportive of the measure. Although not scientific, two online polls this week, one by the BDN and one by WABI-TV5, have 62 percent of respondents saying they favor the smoking ban in parks and other recreational areas.
The Bangor City Council should take a decisive step to improve the health and cleanliness of the city by enacting a tobacco ban at all city-owned recreational facilities.