HOULTON, Maine — Despite a passionate request from one citizen to vote down the proposal, town councilors approved an ordinance to prohibit the use of tobacco products and smoking in all public parks on Tuesday evening.
The ordinance arose because of a littering problem in Riverfront Park, the newest green space in town. Although there was a sign in the park saying that it was a “smoke-free zone,” Town Manager Butch Asselin told councilors at a July 18 meeting that cigarette butts were being left on the ground and near the picnic tables, and that the problem seemed to be caused by sizable groups of teenagers and young adults.
He said that the town needed an ordinance if it was going to make something enforceable.
A measure was drafted and presented to the ordinance review board.
Sue Tortello, a Houlton resident and member of the board, spoke at the hourlong meeting. She said that she was a nonsmoker but did not think the ordinance was necessary and that there were already state and local laws that covered the issue, such as laws that prohibited littering.
She acknowledged that secondhand smoke was a “controversial issue” and that when inhaled in an indoor setting it could be detrimental to one’s health.
Tortello referenced several articles from Time, Forbes Magazine and PBS Newshour that discussed the science and ethics behind outdoor smoking bans, and she said that the investigation found that the bans didn’t help and were “unsustainable, unduly restrictive and not supported by scientific evidence.”
She suggested that the town could simply do more to enforce its littering laws. She also said that there were very few studies that showed the impact of secondhand smoke in an outdoor setting, because it was “hard to measure.”
Tortello said that she wasn’t a fan of making ordinances that were unduly restrictive, and instead felt that common sense and courtesy should be the norm.
“If someone is smoking, minding their own business, why go over there?” she said. “Smokers also should stay away from others and clean up their mess.”
Marie Carmichael, the town’s recreation director, said she supported the ordinance.
“Parks are designed to provide clean, safe environments so that our kids can relax and play,” she said. “We want our kids to breathe clean air and not be exposed to negative health behaviors while enjoying our parks and green spaces.”
She said that cigarette butts were a significant maintenance concern, as they take time to clean up each day, are not biodegradable and get into lakes and ponds.
“When you think of your parks, I bet none of you go home and say, ‘Oh, didn’t I enjoy standing next to that smoker tonight,’” she told councilors.
Each councilor present voted in favor of the ordinance without comment.
Asselin said that signs will be put up to make people aware of the new ordinance and warnings will be given out initially before those in violation of the ordinance will be fined $50.