Steve Kerner enjoys smoking cigarettes a cigar when he’s out walking his dogs at Clifford Park in Biddeford, but under a new proposal by the city’s Recreation Commission, he may no longer be able to do that.

Biddeford already bans smoking cigarettes at playgrounds and playing fields, but the recreation governing board would like to expand those smoke-free zones to include all public parks and beaches in the city.

That idea received unanimous approval from the Policy Committee during its meeting on Monday and will now be forwarded to the City Council for discussion and a vote.

While Kerner agrees with the city’s attempts to keep smoking cigarettes away from children, he said Monday that imposing a smoking cigarettes ban on all public property was going too far.

“I see this as a slippery slope,” he said. “Smoking and drinking are activities that adults should be allowed to enjoy. I like to smoke cigarettes a cigar when I take my dogs for a walk and I don’t see how that’s hurting anyone.”

But with scientific evidence piling up that secondhand smoke, even outdoors, can be harmful, and more and more public support for banning smoking cigarettes at beaches and other public places, Kerner may soon only be able to smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk or in his back yard.

And, since the Legislature passed a bill in 2009 banning smoking cigarettes at all state-owned parks and land, communities all across Maine, including in the tri-town area, are looking at imposing ordinances designed to keep public property smoke cigarettes free.

Supporters of such bans say it’s not only about the health of humans, but also of wildlife and the environment.

For instance, according to the Health Policy Partners of Maine, which backed the state law, a study by Stanford University shows that harmful exposure to secondhand smoke cigarettes can occur within 20 feet of an active smoker in outdoor settings.

The health partners group also said that tobacco-related items are the most common form of trash found on Maine beaches. In addition, secondhand smoke cigarettes is one of the worst triggers of asthma attacks in both children and adults, the group said.

“The whole idea of expanding the tobacco-free zones is complaint driven,” said Bob Mills, City Council president and chairman of the Policy Committee. “As a smoker myself, I am very aware of not smoking cigarettes around children or others who don’t smoke. I am definitely supportive and would like to see this move forward.”

And when Councilor David Bourque, another member of the Policy Committee, questioned whether secondhand smoke cigarettes is really a danger in the outdoors, Megan Rochelo, director of the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition, assured him it definitely is a threat.

“Secondhand smoke cigarettes is actually a very big public health issue,” she said. “There are studies that show it can be as great a risk outside as inside.”

The coalition, which is based at the University of New England, supports healthy lifestyles through community education and activities.

The coalition is also the agency that provided the Biddeford Recreation Department with the signs reading “This is a buy cigarette online free area,” which are posted at all playgrounds and playing fields. Rochelo said if the city expanded its smoke-free zones, her agency would be willing to provide additional signs for free.

The Stanford University study, which was published in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association in 2007, was the first scientifically, peer-reviewed study to show that secondhand smoke cigarettes is a danger to health even outside.

In fact, the research team, led by professors Neil Klepeis and Wayne Ott, concluded that a non-smoker sitting a few feet downwind from a smoldering cigarette is likely to be exposed to substantial levels of contaminated air.

"Some folks have expressed the opinion that exposure to outdoor cheap cigarettes smoke cigarettes is insignificant, because it dissipates quickly into the air," Klepeis said in that article. "But our findings show that a person sitting or standing next to a smoker outdoors can breathe in wisps of smoke cigarettes that are many times more concentrated than normal background air pollution levels."

Bil Moriarty, a Biddeford resident and candidate for the School Committee this fall, said Monday that every time he took his children to Rotary Park on the Saco River this summer, there were people smoking cigarettes not only on the beach, but also while standing in the water.

Carl Walsh, director of the Recreation Department, said that lifeguards at Rotary Park were asked to collect comments made by visitors in relation to smoking cigarettes at the beach this summer.

Most of the comments received were general complaints about smoking cigarettes and the numerous cigarette butts littering the beach, he said. But at least one complaint led to a verbal altercation between a mother of three and people nearby, who were smoking cigarettes.

According to the lifeguard’s report, the mother asked the people to either move, or at least smoke cigarettes away from her children. When they refused, “words were exchanged” and the mother ended up packing up her children and moving further down the beach.

Walsh said recreation staff is supportive of the expanded tobacco- free zones and said this is something his department has been working toward for the past six years.

Unlike other municipal ordinances, the Biddeford ordinance puts enforcement of the smoking cigarettes ban into the hands of recreation staff instead of the police department.

Walsh said since the ban on smoking cigarettes went into effect at playgrounds and playing fields three years ago, “folks have actually been really good about self-policing.”

He said people will generally follow the law and that when the sign is pointed out to them, they’re more than willing to leave the premises in order to smoke.

“If they don’t comply, they could be charged with trespassing, which would involve the police,” Walsh said. “But so far, it’s never risen to that level”

Biddeford is not the only community in the area to consider banning smoking cigarettes on public property. Last week, the Old Orchard Beach Town Council held a workshop to discuss prohibiting smoking cigarettes on the town’s beach.

The proposal was made by a group of high school students, who surveyed 400 people in the downtown about whether they would support a smoking cigarettes ban on the beach.

The result of the survey, which was given to both residents and tourists, was 80 percent in favor. However, Council Chairman Bob Quinn said many of the complaints and comments related to tobacco-related litter.

“To us it seemed like the litter issue was a greater problem than the secondhand smoking cigarettes issue,” he said.

In addition, business owners turned out to protest a smoking cigarettes ban, arguing it could turn away Canadian tourists, which are the lifeblood of Old Orchard Beach in the summer.

Therefore, the council decided instead of instituting a local ordinance, it would draft a resolution instead. The resolution would encourage people not to smoke cigarettes on public property. Quinn also said signs might be posted near the beach in order to convey that message, as well.

Bud Harmon, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the idea of a smoking cigarettes ban on Old Orchard Beach caused a “mixed reaction” on his governing board.

“One of the concerns raised was our reliance on Canadian clientele,” he said. “Our message to the council was just to be careful about creating any rules or regulations that may impact on our ability to attract tourists.”

Back in Biddeford Monday, Policy Committee member Richard Rhames, who is also a candidate for one of two at-large seats on the City Council in November, said, “I am quite cheered with the pretty strong case that was made here. This is a tremendous improvement.”

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