ELLSWORTH — The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to ban smoking of any kind and the use of tobacco products on all of the city’s recreational properties, ranging from boat launches to athletic fields.
The policy does not carry any specific penalties for violators, however — at least, not yet.
“That’s something we’re going to look at,” City Manager David Cole said Tuesday. He said the policy is a first step, designed to show the city takes the health of its residents (particularly children) seriously.
The policy was developed by the city’s Recreation Commission working with Maria Donahue from Healthy Acadia. Part of that organization’s mission is to keep youth from using tobacco or other smoking products because of the health risks associated with such use.
“In essence this is a policy to support healthy activities and safe environments in our recreation areas, places where children and families go to play and be physically active,” Donahue told councilors Monday night. “And a smoke-free environment is in keeping with that healthy behavior.”
The policy identifies the following locations as smoke- and tobacco-free zones within the city: Knowlton Park, S.K. Whiting Park, Harbor Park, the Union River waterfront, the Leonard Lake picnic area, the Branch Lake boat launch and recreation area, the Branch Lake public beach, Demeyer and Wilson fields on the Boggy Brook Road and the bike and pedestrian path from Birch Street to North Avenue.
“It’s nice to enjoy those areas without the smoke and the aggravation,” said Council Chairman John Phillips. “For adults as well as the children.”
Cole said some of the areas, such as Knowlton Park, have previously been designated as smoke-free zones. In other places, the new policy marks a change — a drive through Harbor Park Tuesday morning showed the only prohibitive signs in place were ones banning the feeding of birds and the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The smoke- and tobacco-free policy specifically prohibits “the use of any smoked products that are exhaled.” Asked by Councilor Bob Crosthwaite if that includes marijuana, Donahue said it does if the marijuana is smoked. Edible marijuana products are not covered by this policy.
The policy also includes “spit and smokeless tobacco, chew, snuff, snus, vaping devices” and electronic cigarettes in its list of what is banned.
Fortier predicted there would be “serious pushback” from an adult softball league that uses the field known as Demeyer 3. Fortier said from his own days spent playing softball there he recalled that a lot of the players used chew.
“That will probably be where we get the phone calls,” said Fortier, who said he nevertheless supported the policy.
Harbor Park may be another source of complaints. Among those who like to park there and eat their lunches are some drivers who like to smoke. When their windows and those of other drivers are rolled down, smoke from one car can easily waft into others.
Cole compared the approval of the policy to a bill getting passed in Augusta. Once that happens, he said, there is always work done afterward to tweak the bill as needed and to work on implementing its provisions.
Maine state law bans smoking in public places, though that deals only with “enclosed” public places such as restaurants, bars and malls. Common areas such as beaches and picnic shelters at state parks and historic sites are also smoke-free under state law. Breaking those rules is considered a civil violation and is punishable by a fine of $100.
Bangor passed a policy similar to Ellsworth’s last summer. It prohibits smoking at “playgrounds, swimming pools, sporting fields and buildings” that have “amenities specifically constructed for use by children.” It, too, indirectly addresses marijuana as it bans the smoking of “tobacco or plant product intended for human consumption through inhalation.”
The policy approved Monday in Ellsworth does authorize the City Council, “upon recommendation from the Recreation Commission,” to put up signs and use “other communication tools to achieve compliance” with the policy’s directives.
Cole said absent any financial or civil penalty, he hopes there may be a peer pressure sort of effect as a result of the new policy. No one, for instance, is likely to want to sit in front of a “No Smoking” sign and puff away while getting dirty looks from others who do not approve of the smoking.
“The idea is to discourage the use,” said Cole of the new policy.