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Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth to be off-limits to smokers

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Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth to be off-limits to smokers

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council voted 6-1 Monday to ban smoking in Fort Williams Park.

The ordinance amendment, which takes effect in mid-May, prohibits the use of cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, and all other tobacco products, including rolling papers, pipes and e-cigarettes.

"I think it's important to provide children and all visitors to the park with a safe and healthy environment," said Bill Brownell, chairman of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission, who cited secondhand smoke and litter in his support of the ban.

The penalty for violating the ban will be a $250 fine, although Town Manager Mike McGovern said he expected that would only be necessary for repeat offenders.

There was little objection to the ban during a public comment period.

Town resident Scott Clark called himself a "conscientious smoker" and said he respects the ban on cigarettes, but asked the council to reconsider banning e-cigarettes, which he said he is using to try to quit smoking.

Councilor Kathy Ray said it would be too difficult to distinguish between regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes, for enforcement purposes, and added that the ban "wasn’t about being judgmental of people who choose to smoke."

Councilor Jamie Wagner acknowledged the science on e-cigarettes – battery-powered devices that dispense nicotine-infused vapor – is new, but said the potential for carcinogens and harmful vapor could make a ban worthwhile.

Jana Thompson, a public health program coordinator with the Opportunity Alliance, lauded the town for taking a "cutting-edge" stance against e-cigarettes, which don't fall under today's typical tobacco- and smoke-free definitions.

There are 72 towns in Maine that have passed similar ordinances since 2009, Thompson said.

Councilor Molly MacAusland cast the lone dissenting vote.

"I'm a libertarian at heart, so it's troubling to me to put in place an ordinance that I think could be better handled," MacAusland said. "I would rather we live in a civil society and encourage good behavior through signage and receptacles, rather than mandating it by law."

In 2008, the Town Council rejected a smoking ban in favor of signs asking park patrons not to smoke. But those signs were never posted.

"I was disappointed to hear that it never happened," MacAusland said. "I'm not one to look to the past; I'm interested in the future. And my single vote was not going to make a difference, but sometimes you have to vote your conscience."

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter:@brendantwist.