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Claremont Closer to Smoke Ban

Claremont — After a few failed attempts, the City Council has passed an ordinance that would ban smoking in most city parks in all but designated areas.

The ordinance will be presented at a public hearing in September and voted on again after a second reading.

Unlike previous discussions, where strong opinions on both sides of the issue were expressed by councilors and the public, there were only a few comments by the council Wednesday night before it voted 8-1 to adopt the ban.

Councilor Kyle Messier voted no because she wanted the distance that the designated areas could be from entrances, exits or walkways of any building or other area open to the public to be greater than 5 feet. Other councilors said the 5-foot threshold is only a minimum distance and when the designated areas are established, the distance can be greater.

The ordinance would ban smoking and the use of other tobacco products and e-cigarettes entirely at Barnes, Monadnock and Veterans parks and parts of Moody Park while also creating designated smoking areas at those facilities. The same ban would be in place during any event sanctioned by the city at Broad Street Park, the road and trails at Monadnock Park and the Riverside Skate Park.

The city will post signs saying that smoking is prohibited along with signs indicating the designated smoking areas.

Municipalities have struggled to pass a ban using the state law that bans indoor smoking to apply it to outdoor parks and other public spaces.

Newport passed an ordinance in March that applies outdoors only when there are events taking place, such as summer concerts and athletics events, and around playgrounds when people are using the structure.

City attorney Jane Taylor had previously said that even though there is no state law to allow outdoor smoking bans on city property, the city could cite public health and safety as a reason.

“That is where the justification has to be made,” Taylor said. “I think an argument can be made that regulating smoking (in parks) where there is activity can be supported on the basis of public safety.”

Councilor Vic Bergeron voted for the ordinance, but he objected to a provision that allows the parks and recreation director and city manager to decide, without council approval, to modify or remove any designated area if it “creates a nuisance or public health hazard.”

“I don’t like that idea,” Bergeron said. “The parks and recreation director can undo the whole thing, if they so choose.”

Mayor Jim Neilsen said there would have to be justification for such action and mostly likely there would be a “public outcry,” at which time the council could step in.

“This is just a way to handle it (changing a designated area) without rewriting the entire ordinance,” he said.

When the original proposal was presented by the Parks and Recreation Board, it was recommended that smoking be banned in all the parks, everywhere. But councilors found that too restrictive and unenforceable, so the ban was modified to areas where people are more likely to congregate, and designated smoking areas were included.

If approved next month, the ban would take effect immediately. Violators would be fined $50 for the first offense, $100 the second and $200 the third.

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