Cape Elizabeth bans tobacco products at Fort Williams, ignores the real problems

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council voted 6-1 Monday night to ban smoking and tobacco products from Fort Williams Park, the site of the iconic Portland Head Lighthouse.

Councilor David Sherman, who voted in favor of the ban explained his vote, “There are cigarette butts all over the park.”

William Brownell, who is chairman of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission, told councilors that passengers on tour buses routinely empty off the buses when they pull up to the lighthouse and immediately light up cigarettes.

Oddly, the ban isn’t limited to cigarettes, cigars, and pipes- it also includes banning the use of chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes, neither of which produce any second hand smoke.

Cape Elizabeth resident Scott Clark urged the council to leave e-cigarettes out of the ban, saying that the battery powered devices- which produce vapor rather than smoke- have no second hand effects on other people.

Councilor Katharine Ray, who also voted in favor of the ban, said that even though e-cigarettes do not produce smoke or litter the way cigarettes do, it would be too difficult to enforce the ban against one and not the other.

So starting in 30 days, when the new ordinance takes effect, anyone caught smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes could be subject to a $250 fine.

Town Manager Michael McGovern explained that fines will be rare, however, because town staff will first ask people to voluntarily put their tobacco away rather than going straight to writing the ticket.

Fines will only be needed if somebody refuses or becomes belligerent, McGovern said, “Like with most ordinances like this, we look for voluntary cooperation.”

In other words, anyone can still light up without penalty- so long as they put it out a few puffs after they get caught and told to stop.

Picture a few understaffed town employees running around the park scolding people.

Now picture A LOT of ticked off tour bus riders who’ve just realized that they aren’t going to get that nicotine fix that they’re craving for at least another 45 minutes when the bus gets back to the Old Port to drop them off.

To me, there seems a much more common sense solution to the issue of second hand smoke- designated smoking areas. Simple as that.

And when it comes to the issue of litter, I’ve got an even simpler solution- trash cans.

That’s right, Fort Williams has no trash cans. According to Cape Elizabeth Director of Public Works, Bob Malley, about 20 years ago the town changed their policy to mirror that of state park “carry in, carry out” policy. The problem with this policy, which requires that everyone take their own trash home with them, is that it doesn’t seem to be working.

Check out some of the photos that I took on a visit to the park on Tuesday. I didn’t see many cigarette butts, but the trash seemed like it was everywhere I looked:

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Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta.