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 Manor.
South Berwick task force wants to make public areas smoke-freeSigns! Is there anything they can't do?
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.
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 one 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 force.In other words, it's pure posturing, designed to make its proponents feel morally superior by sending a message to their inferiors. And, predictably, it's for the children!
The council could vote on the resolution at its next meeting May 27.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."
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 dangerous."
But the intrepid Foster's reporter was not content to merely report on the debate. It's off 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 the ground.The reporter 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 laws you already 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 town.By the "Healthy Maine Coalition", the reporter is almost certainly referring to "Healthy Maine Partnerships." ("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.
"That would rub (fishermen who smoke) the wrong way," Hertzog said. "You have to draw the line somewhere."
The reporter has a tough time finding people who like the idea:
Mike Pearson, a Cape Neddick resident who was fishing for stripers Wednesday, was on the fence about having no-smoking signs posted.If you can't find any ordinary Joes or Josephines who like being nannied, a safe backup plan is to consult Your Local University:
"I can't 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 line."
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.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!
"It's common sense," he said. "Young people are easily influenced by their elders. The goal (of the resolution) is to ensure they have healthy role models to emulate."
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 resolution.Probably any article that quotes Professor Hiller on anti-smoking efforts should also mention his history of plagiarism 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 it.For! The! Children! If you remember that simple slogan, thinking isn't necessary: you just have to "feel." Or, as does Councilor Demetracopoulos, "feel strongly."
"I feel strongly that this is a good idea ... especially where children are congregating," Demetracopoulos said.
Hertzog, the fisherman, [Yes, we're back to Bill Hertzog, last seen eight paragraphs ago on the rivershore.] 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 Council.
The task 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!