MANCHESTER, NH – The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday voted in favor of drafting an ordinance to ban smoking in city parks, after Mayor Gatsas outlined concerns raised by police over a new wave of public spice smoking.
“The Chief is looking to bring forward a no smoking ban in the parks of Manchester. He’s been working with the city solicitor to get some wording together,” said Gatsas. “It looks like activity at the park is generating activity with new spice. Veterans Park, if you go by it, there are an awful lot of people in the park smoking, and the chief feels if you can put in a smoking ban at the parks, he’ll be able to enforce it. My understanding is when the police officers go after these folks, they pull out a pack of cigarettes and it looks like they’ve rolled their own [spice cigarettes] and put them back in the pack of cigarettes. I know this board sometimes has a difficult time in voting for things before they see them, but I hope that we could get a consensus vote to allow them to go in and enforce a smoking ban.”
Gatsas said he brought the subject up as new business to expedite it now, rather than waiting for the next board meeting.
Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur, who is an attorney, was the first to comment.
“My civil liberties portion of me comes running out when I hear stuff like this. You don’t want them smoking in bars, you don’t want them smoking in cars, you don’t want them smoking in homes because it affects the health of children. If they’re going to smoke you’d rather have them smoke outside,” Levasseur said. “I get that.”
He noted that he was an early adopter of banning smoking in restaurants back in 1993 at his own establishment, and characterized himself as “probably the biggest anti-smoker on the planet,” but that he had concerns about drafting an ordinance.
“I look at this – and I told Chief I’d back him on anything – but I see the ACLU just coming right up against us and slapping us upside the head, and being 100 percent against this. My biggest concern is what we’re going to do to enforce. I don’t know, when you say you can’t smoke in your restaurant you can fine the owner. When you tell people they can’t smoke outside, I guess maybe you fine them or throw the person out of the park… but then you have a double-edged sword issue going on,” Levasseur said.
Willard said he’s done his homework on the issue, which is not unusual in cities around the country.
“I’m a liberty-loving guy myself, actually. But it’s also the litter, the amount of cigarette butts Parks and Rec pulls out of there. There are a lot of studies on second-hand smoke, New York City has a policy, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon– in cities across the country they’re adopting these,” Willard said. “I believe it has withstood some Constitutional challenges.”
Willard described how police have become aware of some people replacing the tobacco in regular cigarettes with spice and smoking them in public parks, particularly Veterans Park, which raised his concerns about subjecting children to second-hand spice smoke.
“My real reason behind this is if they’re smoking spice in the park and there are kids around them, I have a problem with that,” Willard said. “And secondly, there are cigarette butts all over the park. We see it every day.”
Alderman Pat Long asked if vaping would be included in the ordinance. Willard said it would, as some people use substances while vaping which aren’t intended for the electronic smoking devices.
After brief discussion the board voted in favor of working on an ordinance to ban smoking in city parks, with only Levasseur abstaining, saying he wanted more information before going forward with a city ordinance.
Willard also briefed the board on a new initiative on graffiti, to solicit tipsters through Manchester Crime Line to help identify notorious taggers around the city.