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Houlton councilors revisit designated smoking areas in light of new request

HOULTON, Maine — Despite town councilors approving changes two weeks ago in the community’s public smoking ban to allow tobacco use in designated areas outside of the John A. Millar Civic Center and in municipal parks under specific situations, there was significant debate among the group again Monday evening when an applicant requested permission to do so during an upcoming event.

During a brief meeting, Half Acre, Inc., of Bangor requested a designated smoking area for an event scheduled at the civic center on Sept. 29 pending an application to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages.

The request for the application and the designated smoking area were split into two separate votes over pending concerns over smoking issues near the civic center.

Smoking currently is not allowed at the Millar Civic Center or in municipal parks. The civic center sits on the edge of Community Park and there are signs up in the area telling citizens that they can’t smoke or use other tobacco products.

Now that the amendment has passed, the council can temporarily authorize individuals or groups who lease the civic center or municipal parks to designate an outside area for the use of tobacco products that complies with all laws. Lessees would be responsible for cleanup of the designated area.

Groups or citizens renting the building can consider establishing an area for smoking that could be monitored. They would have to specify that on the lease application and clean up the smoking area, as well, before leaving. Town Manager William MacDonald said the designated smoking area needs to be measured, and the smoking space would likely be a cordoned area off the north door on the north side of the Millar Civic Center toward the woods.

Councilors indicated last month that officials have had difficulty in the past enforcing the tobacco ban in the park, with individuals who have been told they can’t smoke simply finding an area out of view and doing it anyway.

Councilor Raymond Jay said Monday evening that despite the Council’s decision to allow designated smoking areas in certain circumstances, which he opposed, he still did not agree with the idea.

“I still disagree with the smoking,” he said. “I will continue to vote no on this issue. I think we will run into muck there. Who will empty the ashes from the cigarette bins? Will they empty them when they are still hot? If so, you will have a dumpster fire.”

Councilor Hal Britton agreed, noting that he has seen people carelessly toss a cigarette without extinguishing it.

“How often do you see people smoke half of it and toss it and not put it out?” he said.

MacDonald reminded councilors that all applicants will need to sign a contract where all the rules will be clearly spelled out, especially the rules around designated smoking areas.

Councilor Sue Tortello said that she would support the application.

“I made a point at the last meeting that the process needs to be fair and equitable,” she said. “If we are going to allow this, I don’t think it matters about your personal views on smoking,” she said. “As long as people follow the rules, I can’t see any reason how you can deny the application.”

In the end, only Jay and Britton opposed the designated smoking area proposition, so the measure passed.

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