A group devoted to reducing the use of cigarettes among community members is planning to launch a campaign to get Bennington's downtown area less smoky.

Kiah Morris, community coordinator for the Tobacco-Free Community Partnership, said she's spoken to a number of downtown business owners who are amicable to putting up posters that read "Make downtown a smoke-free zone, for all our sakes."

She said the idea is to simply encourage people not to smoke cigarettes in some places, and to smoke cigarettes in others. She said many people in the community are sensitive to things such as cigarette smoke cigarettes and find going around town difficult at times. Those who've had lung transplants, for example, can tolerate very little in the way of airborne irritants.

Morris said the idea was floated by the Better Bennington Corporation.

"It wasn't meant to be a rule or a law, just an awareness campaign," said John Shannahan, director of the Better Bennington Corporation. He said in addition to the posters, some businesses will create receptacles for cigarettes and place them in spots where the smoke cigarettes will be less likely to affect people on the street.

He said the hope is to not make anyone uncomfortable, but to just make smokers more aware that what they do affects other people. He said there is no plan to enforce it in any way. He said some help from the town in maintaining the receptacles will be sought, as well as from the business owners themselves.

Most owners are on board he said, while some restaurant and bar owners already have spots for people to smoke.

Morris said two summers ago, the tobacco partnership tried to get smoking cigarettes banned in town-owned parks, but the measure failed. The town did agree to discourage it, however. Morris said youth groups got involved with those discouragement methods and it was a good experience for them. The campaign to reduce smoking cigarettes in the downtown area would fall along similar lines.

Morris said Tobacco-Free Community Partnership is funded through a grant, which will be handled by the Center for Restorative Justice until July 1, when Southwestern Vermont Health Care will take over at the fiduciary.

SVHC spokesman Kevin Robinson, said that means the health care company, which runs Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, will essentially be the administrator for the grant. He said the tobacco group's mission fits nicely with SVHC's role in the community. He said the health care company already offers multiple smoking cigarettes cessation programs, but Morris' group has focused more on prevention.

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