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Council Debates Park Smoking Ban

Claremont — Rather than ban smoking at all city recreational facilities, including Arrowhead and the surrounding trail system and forest, Moody Park and the Sugar River Recreation Trail, the City Council agreed with the recommendation of Police Chief Alex Scott to focus on the parks used mostly for athletic activities.

During a lengthy discussion on a proposed smoking ban developed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, Scott said the council should begin with a ban at Monadnock, Barnes and Veterans parks as well as the playground area at Moody Park.

“Start with those three and see how it goes from there,” Scott said.

The council added Broad Street Park at the suggestion of councilor Charlene Lovett and instructed city attorney Jane Taylor to write an ordinance and consult with Scott on fines for violations, then bring it back for review.

Parks and Recreation Board member Jim Feleen presented a recommendation from the board for a complete ban, not only in the city’s recreation areas, but in the parking lots, inside vehicles and buildings on park land and an area within 100 feet of the boundary line of the facilities.

Also included was the exterior area of the community center.

“Our view is they should be smoke-free environments,” Feleen said, emphasizing several times that not only should people not have to endure second-hand smoke but children should not see adults smoking, thus the 100 foot buffer. He also said the recommendation is not groundbreaking as municipalities throughout the country have similar bans in parks.

But some councilors, including Nick Koloski and Vic Bergeron, said the recommendation went too far.

“I really have a hard time telling someone they can’t even smoke in their car in the parking lot,” Koloski said. “I just think this is way too much.”

Koloski also wondered if banning smoking outside the community center or Arrowhead lodge might lower the number of functions booked for those places if smokers were not allowed to step outside and have a cigarette.

Bergeron called it “ridiculous” to fine someone $50 for smoking in Monadnock Park early in the morning when no one else is around. He told Feleen he expected a recommendation with compromises in the parks for smokers.

In reply, Feleen said the board took that recommendation under advisement and discussed it but in the end, agreed a complete ban is the right way to go or otherwise enforcement is difficult.

“When you start carving out places where it won’t apply, it becomes unenforceable,” Feleen said.

Using Bergeron’s example, he asked whether the ban would take effect if two or three people were smoking in the park in the morning and how close would they have to be to someone to be in violation.

“We answered that question by doing away with all of it,” Feleen said.

Also commenting were Valley Regional Hospital CEO Peter Wright and Dr. Oliver Herfort. Both spoke passionately about the documented adverse health effects of cigarette smoking and how banning it in the park facilities will strongly benefit the community.

“It is not alright to smoke where you want,” said Herfort. “People will look at this (smoking ban) as the right decision.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.