Our morning paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, contains an article about the latest
Town Council meeting in South Berwick, Maine,
literally a mere few minutes stroll
over the Salmon Falls River from Pun Salad
South Berwick task force wants to make public areas smoke-free
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — For the second time in as many years, the
Town Council will take up one of the third rails of public policy:
smoking in public places.
In recent weeks, members of the South
Berwick Tobacco-Free Recreation Task Force have approached councilors
with a tobacco-free resolution that would apply to the Agamenticus ball
fields, the Teen Center, Powderhouse Hill, and Counting House Park. The
group is hoping to put up signs in those areas instructing visitors not
to smoke or use tobacco products.
Signs! Is there anything they can't do?
We did a photo
essay on the irritating signage
in Maine a few weeks back. But nanny-state signs are
infectious: why stop at N signs, when you can have N+1? Won't each
push people to be a little more
happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise?
There's very little
limit on things you can nag people about, once you've persuaded
yourself that it's your business to do so.
The nonbinding, nonenforceable
resolution would not be a law, and violators would not be subject to any
penalties. Rather, it would be a "reminder and a statement" that the
town supports tobacco-free recreation areas to protect children,
according to Sarah Sullivan, who works for the Choose to be Healthy
Partnership at York Hospital and is a member of the task
In other words, it's pure posturing, designed to make its
proponents feel morally superior by sending a message
their inferiors. And, predictably, it's for the children!
The council could vote on the resolution at its next
meeting May 27.
Councilors did not adopt the tobacco-free
resolution last year for two main reasons. First, the town's youth
baseball and soccer leagues have voluntary agreements in place that
nobody use tobacco products when children are playing at the fields.
Second, councilors did not want to include Counting House Park in the
resolution because fishermen sometimes smoke there while casting off the
banks of the Salmon Falls River.
The previous council decided
that fishing was a traditional "smoking sport," according to current
Councilor Sue Roberge.
"That's just what it is," she said. "I
don't feel a resolution is necessary."
Sullivan disagreed with
the fishermen-smoking connection.
"By creating a stereotype that
(all) fishermen smoke is unfair," she said. "Fishing is a very healthy,
wonderful sport ... to say it is a smoking sport is
Ms. Sullivan is probably a heck of a nice person in real life, but
it's pretty clear she's not interested in arguing the facts here;
instead she attacks Councilor Roberge for making a statement
that's "unfair" and (even) "dangerous."
But the intrepid Foster's reporter was not content to
merely report on the debate.
to the river for sharp-eyed first-hand investigation:
At about 2 p.m. Wednesday, about a half-dozen
fishermen were casting lines off the banks of the Salmon Falls River.
While none of them were then smoking, in front of some of the park
benches, a handful of discarded cigarette butts could be found strewn on
has hit on a valid point:
some smokers' habit of using the
entire outdoors as their own personal ashtray is obnoxious.
Suggestion to the South Berwick goverment: try enforcing the littering
have on the books
[cf. § 98-19, paragraph B.]
No nanny-statism is necessary for that.
The reporter discovers an endangered species along the river,
a relatively libertarian Maine resident:
Bill Hertzog, a South Berwick resident who has been
fishing at the park for the last decade, said he isn't much of a smoker
but was against having signs posted in the park. The task force said the
signs would be provided by Healthy Maine Coalition at no cost to the
"That would rub (fishermen who smoke) the wrong way,"
Hertzog said. "You have to draw the line somewhere."
"Healthy Maine Coalition", the
reporter is almost certainly referring to "Healthy Maine
." ("We're your friends and neighbors working together
at the State and local level to make Maine a healthier place to live and
work.") You can check out the "no cost to the town" signage here (PDF)
It appears that the whole kit and kaboodle is being funded by tobacco
companies as part of their Master Settlement Agreement
with the Feds.
The reporter has a tough time finding people who like the idea:
Pearson, a Cape Neddick resident who was fishing for stripers Wednesday,
was on the fence about having no-smoking signs posted.
stand cigarette smoke. At the same time, I like the freedom we have," he
said. "You can't smoke in restaurants, but when you start saying you
can't smoke outside in public areas, you're treading a fine
If you can't find any ordinary Joes or Josephines who like being
nannied, a safe backup plan is to consult Your Local University:
Marc Hiller, an associate professor of Health Management
and Policy at the University of New Hampshire, said there about 60 towns
in Maine that have adopted anti-tobacco resolutions similar to the one
the South Berwick Town Council is considering.
sense," he said. "Young people are easily influenced by their elders.
The goal (of the resolution) is to ensure they have healthy role models
This is, of course, feelgood crap. No amount of "free" signage, deployed
in a "nonbinding, nonenforceable" manner will "ensure" anything. Even
if it is (one more time) for the children!
Hiller is a member of the South Berwick task force
and appeared before the council May 12 along with York Hospital
officials, students from Marshwood High School and Berwick Academy,
school nurses, and residents who all pushed for the
Probably any article that quotes Professor Hiller on
anti-smoking efforts should also mention his history of
on the topic. Getting caught hasn't chastened
him from advocacy, though.
Council Chair Jean Demetracopoulos and Councilor
Michelle Kareckas said at the time they were in favor of passing
For! The! Children!
"I feel strongly that this is a good idea ... especially
where children are congregating," Demetracopoulos said.
If you remember that simple slogan,
thinking isn't necessary: you just have to "feel." Or, as does Councilor
Demetracopoulos, "feel strongly."
[Yes, we're back to Bill Hertzog, last seen eight paragraphs ago on the
said Counting House Park was different from a soccer or
baseball field because it is more open and any secondhand smoke can
easily be avoided. He pointed to three fishermen about 100 yards away on
the other side of the river, none of whom were smoking.
Geography note: if they were on the other side of the river, they were
in New Hampshire, safe from the blandishments of the South Berwick Town
force has discussed leaving out Counting House Park in the resolution,
thus removing a potential roadblock in the eyes of the council, but
ultimately decided not to do so because it would set a "double
standard," according to Hiller.
I strongly suspect that the real reason here is not a perceived "double
standard," but instead the notion that more nannying is always to be
preferred to less nannying. When you're in that business, why make
reasonable exceptions for different situations?
Hiller hopes the council will
pass the resolution to provide a "consistently strong public health
message" to residents.
Send a message!