City bans smoking in and around outdoor areas
Cops directed, but not expected, to enforce law
By Chris Busby
The Portland City Council has criminalized smoking in and around all city-owned playgrounds, beaches and athletic fields. The vote last night was 7-1, with Councilor Kevin Donoghue the lone dissenter; Councilor Jim Cohen was absent.
Action on a companion measure to criminalize smoking on the decks and patios of restaurants and bars was postponed to the Council’s Sept. 3 meeting.
The new law directs police to issue formal warnings to first-time offenders. Repeat offenders or those who fail to comply after being warned by an officer will be issued a citation that carries a $50 fine.
Hadlock Field, the city-owned athletic facility where the Portland Sea Dogs play, was exempted from the ordinance, though the law states that the smoking area inside Hadlock may not be expanded in the future. The law covers 24 athletic fields and 26 playgrounds throughout the city and islands.
The law applies within 20 feet of the affected areas, making it illegal to smoke on certain stretches of city sidewalks and roadways and the water off East End Beach. (A public beach on the south side of Peaks Island, commonly known as “sandy beach,” may also be under the new law’s jurisdiction — councilors were not clear exactly what areas are affected by the law they passed.)
Councilor Donoghue said he objected to the ordinance because the issue of secondhand tobacco smoke outdoors is a matter of social “etiquette,” not law enforcement. He also raised concerns that police are expected to use “discretion” in warning and fining offenders — a selective enforcement regime that could make some groups of people more likely to be targeted by cops than others.
Councilor Dan Skolnik, who chairs the committee that brought the law forward, said he’s not concerned cops will use their “discretion” in enforcing the law. He stated his belief that if an offender walking through a non-smoking zone is warned by an officer to stop smoking and keeps walking, “you’re not in violation.” (There is no language in the ordinance that suggests offenders can avoid being issued a formal warning or citation by a police officer by leaving the non-smoking area when confronted by a cop.)
Several city officials who support the new law said they do not expect police to be the primary means of enforcement. “It’s not really an effective piece of public policy” if cops have to ticket smokers, said Councilor Jill Duson.
Instead, officials hope dozens of new signs placed in and around public playgrounds, playing fields and beaches warning the public of the new law will be effective. It’s unclear exactly how many new signs will need to be purchased and installed this summer, but for the ordinance to hold up to a court challenge, precedent suggests a sign must be placed at each entryway to every playground, playing field and beach, at a cost that could reach several thousand dollars, including labor expenses. City spokesperson Nicole Clegg said some of the cost may be covered by Healthy Maine Partnership grant funds.
Citizens who chew tobacco are not affected by the new law. And despite comments by several councilors last night that suggested the law applies in and around public “parks,” it does not, except in cases where an athletic field or playground is within the boundaries of a park.