Cigarette butts and litter in a gutter in front of stores on Lisbon Street near the intersection with Main Street in Lewiston. Many business owners are behind a proposal to expand a smoke-free ordinance that would rid the area of smoke and trash. Credit: Contributed

Just before it takes a final vote on an ordinance to ban smoking, including vaping and e-cigarettes, in all public parks, playgrounds and athletic fields next Tuesday, Lewiston’s City Council will start work on a new proposal to ban smoking in the heart of the city’s business district.

Businesses working with nonprofit health advocacy group Healthy Androscoggin have proposed that Lewiston city councilors ban smoking on Lisbon Street sidewalks from Adams Avenue to Main Street. The area is an important thoroughfare for downtown businesses, but it also attracts groups of smokers billowing vapors and dropping butts.

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“Anything we can do to support our downtown businesses at a time when we’re trying to revitalize our downtown will be beneficial,” Lewiston Mayor Kristen Cloutier said. The city is in the midst of major investments to clean up its aging housing and create more living spaces.

Cloutier said the stretch of Lisbon Street under consideration is where she takes her 10-year-old daughter during art walks.

“It’s a public health issue,” she said. “And businesses feel like it’s an impediment when people are smoking outside and customers have to walk through it.”

If approved, the Lisbon Street area would be added to an existing ordinance that also bans smoking on the Central and Sabattus street sidewalks surrounding St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.

Alicia Rea, a City Council representative, said it is important to also educate people about the dangers of smoking and how to quit.

“We have to tell them what smoking cessation means, not just slap fines on them,” she said.

Credit: Courtesy of Rinck Advertising

Cleaning up the downtown

Mike Dostie, owner of J. Dostie Jewelers and chairman of the Downtown Lewiston Association, said he personally supports the smoking ban on Lisbon Street, which he wants to be clean and welcoming.

“I look at this as a real step forward for the city, not only for the health benefits but for the business-friendly environment,” he said. “For some businesses it might cause an inconvenience, but for others the lack of an ordinance is a hindrance to businesses and business growth.”

Dostie collaborated with Healthy Androscoggin to make a proposal to the City Council.

“The businesses are driving this because they’ve had challenges,” said Mary Caron, health promotion coordinator at Healthy Androscoggin. “[The proposed ban] really sends the message that Lewiston wants to protect the folks downtown from being exposed to second-hand smoke and vaping. It also sends a strong public health message.”

A wave of similar efforts is sweeping the state as towns try to improve outdoor health and to keep their streets clean. Camden, Bangor, Houlton, Brunswick and Saco already have ordinances banning smoking in certain parts of their cities. It’s up to municipalities to regulate any potential smoking bans.

The anti-smoking effort remains controversial, however. Some businesses that cater to smokers worry they might lose customers. Others are concerned that low-income people might be chased away from their neighborhoods as bans go into effect.

Among Maine cities, Belfast and Rockland remain outliers in considering and then not immediately adopting regulations. Belfast city councilors last week postponed a ban on smoking on sidewalks and city-owned parks after critics decried the plan as governmental overreach.

And Rockland’s City Council on Sept. 9 voted down a non-smoking ordinance, Instead, the city manager will reintroduce the smoking ban proposal as a policy in an Oct. 16 meeting, City Clerk Stuart Sylvester said.

“Some people thought the penalties would criminalize smoking, but smoking isn’t illegal,” Sylvester said.

Credit: Courtesy of Tom Simmons

A heated issue

B.J. Lewis, manager of Complete Labor & Staffing, a temporary job agency on Lisbon Street, said he has mixed feelings about the smoking ban proposal.

“I’m torn,” he said. “If someone says you can’t smoke it causes a problem for me. But I don’t like butts on the ground.

“I don’t think business will change either way,” he said. “People will still smoke no matter what.”

A neighboring business, The Healing Community MEDCo, which sells marijuana and CBD products, said it had no opinion.

“I don’t want to offend anyone so I’m neutral,” said Alex, an operating partner who declined to give his last name.

Dianna Pozdniakov, founder and CEO of Lewiston handbag startup company Sofia Fima, said that in her neighborhood, people stand in the doorways and smoke. She can watch all the action from her store on the first floor of the building she and her husband own and renovated.

“It really is an issue for the growth of our city,” she said. “The mess is great, and I don’t want to be forced to inhale someone else’s smoke.”

Peter Rinck, CEO of Rinck Advertising, said he is a former smoker and he has empathy with those who still smoke.

“But smoking kills, secondhand smoke kills, asthma rates are very high in Maine and honestly, the litter is horrible,” he said. “Filters are not biodegradable, and they are everywhere.

“If you walk down Lisbon Street, there are probably five to 10 filters [or] butts every 5 feet,” Rinck said.

Anchour, a branding and digital marketing company, supports the smoking ban for reasons inside and outside of its offices.

“It would reduce the flow of smoke into our open-concept office,” said Tom Simmons, people operations manager at Anchour. “It also would help because it would reduce the number of cigarette butts that consistently turn up in the tree wells and vegetable boxes we’ve planted in support of the Edible Lisbon Street and Adopt-A-Spot Programs.”

He said many businesses on Lisbon Street have enrolled in these programs to support the community, “but they inevitably turn into trash receptacles,” he said.

The City Council will hold a workgroup at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 to discuss the Lisbon Street ban, and at 7 p.m. will meet to take a final vote on banning smoking, vaping and e-cigarettes in public recreational areas. Both meetings are open to the public and will be streamed via the city of Lewiston Youtube channel.

Elsewhere in Maine

There are some state smoking bans in place. For example, in May 2009 former Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill into law that prohibits smoking on state park beaches, playgrounds, snack bars and group picnic shelters.

Camden was one of the earlier towns to tackle outdoor smoking. In July 2013 its select board adopted a policy to prohibit smoking at municipal playgrounds, parks, beaches, athletic facilities, public trails and public open spaces.

In August 2016, Bangor city councilors approved a ban on smoking in city parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, ball fields and other amenities geared toward children.

Houlton town councilors in December 2016 approved an ordinance to prohibit the use of tobacco products and smoking in all public parks.

In July 2019 Brunswick’s town council approved an ordinance that prohibits smoking and vaping between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Maine Street from Bath Road to the Androscoggin River. It also bans smoking and vaping in all public parks and within 20 feet of schools, bus stops and sidewalks.

The penalty for a first offense is a warning, but repeat offenders could face a $50 fine.

And in September 2019, Saco city councilors adopted an ordinance saying that all tobacco products, including vaping, will no longer be allowed in public parks, playgrounds and beaches.