No butts on the beach
WELLS — Smokers, take your butts elsewhere.
An ordinance prohibiting smoking on Wells beaches was passed unanimously by the town Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, and residents say the measure has been long overdue.
The ban, which was effective immediately on passage, prohibits smoking of any tobacco or plant product, and applies to any lighted or heated cigarette, cigar or pipe, or any natural or synthetic plant products intended for human consumption.
The law also prohibits the use of electronic smoking devices such as e-cigarettes and vaporizers, which heat tobacco-based products for inhalation.
The ban was proposed in August after several constituents took their concerns to the board, noting ground and water pollution from cigarette butts and unwelcome secondhand smoke hovering in the air.
Following a public hearing on the matter on Tuesday, the ban was given final approval.
“The people who brought this to us were long-time residents of the community who enjoy the beach themselves, and they recounted stories of what they ran into,” Town Manager Jonathan Carter said. “The thing that has held us up from passing it prior was the thought of beach ownership and enforcement down the road.”
Several Wells residents voiced their support of the ban at the public hearing.
“I have been a resident here for almost 13 years, and it’s long, long overdue,” Noreen Basque told the selectmen. “We need to do something about (smoking). It’s really a problem, not only for the environment but for people’s health.”
Basque also addressed a popular argument that the beach is a public space and therefore smoking should be allowed on it. She said hospitals and other public buildings require people to smoke a minimum distance away from entrances, and the beach should as well.
Other residents mentioned the importance of passing the ordinance given that ballot referendum Question 1, which asks Maine voters if they want to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, may be passed by Maine voters in November.
“Obviously, if (Question) 1 passes, it’ll be interesting to see what happens there,” Carter said.
Carter said because the ordinance prohibits the smoking of plant products, it also effectively prohibits marijuana use.
Enforcement efforts will ramp up next summer. At that time, Carter said, lifeguards, water quality testers and beach cleaners will act as “ambassadors” of the anti-smoking ordinance. People found in violation of the ordinance will be issued a $20 civil fine.
The town’s current focus is on informing residents – in addition to the thousands of tourists who flock to the beach during the summer months – that the ban has been passed.
Carter said the town has received a $500 grant from York Hospital’s Choose to Be Healthy coalition to help fund some of the marketing efforts, which will include putting notes in booklets sent out by the Wells Chamber of Commerce, and advertising the ban on beach parking passes and potentially on the beach’s “pay and display” parking meters.
Carter said he expects some pushback from tourists and residents as summer approaches. So far, though, he said most people seem to be enthusiastic about the ban, and are glad to see the town take action against what they see as a public health problem.
“I am very happy that it’s passed,” Carter said. “The point is to be considerate to others by not using tobacco products on the beach.”
— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or email@example.com.