February 04, 2023

Smoking ban OK’d in Bangor Lighting up in vehicles with children prohibited

BANGOR – In 10 days, Bangor will become the first city in Maine, perhaps in the nation, to ban adults from smoking in any motor vehicle when children are present.

In a 6-3 vote Monday night, the Bangor City Council approved a measure that prohibits any driver or passenger from lighting up a cigarette or other smoking material in a motor vehicle if anyone under age 18 is in the vehicle. Violators of the new city ordinance can be fined $50. The law applies to any motor vehicle on any public road within the city limits.

In a move that surprised the measure’s supporters, the council endorsed an amendment from Councilor Patricia Blanchette that changes a violation of the ban from a secondary offense to a primary offense. That means police can stop a vehicle carrying children if smoking in the vehicle is observed. As originally drafted, police would have to stop the vehicle for some other reason, such as speeding.

Blanchette, a smoker herself, spoke forcefully against passing a lackluster measure that might lack enforceability or “teeth.”

“A secondary offense is not worth the paper it’s written on,” she told fellow council members. People who smoke with a child present in the confined space of a car or truck might as well be deliber-

ately trying to kill that child, she said. “Let’s step up to the plate and lead; our children are worth the fight,” she said.

Several area residents spoke in favor of the original measure, including several medical professionals.

Pediatric dentist Jonathan Shenkin, a primary drafter of the proposal, told the council that measures to ban smoking in restaurants, bars and workplaces protect adults from unwanted exposure to secondhand smoke, but that children are not protected by these laws. He cited a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health and report from the office of the U.S. surgeon general showing that children are now at the highest risk of health complications from exposure to other people’s smoking materials and that passenger vehicles are a significant source of this exposure. He argued that the city’s leadership on this issue would encourage other municipalities, and perhaps the Legislature, to adopt similar measures.

Pediatrician Robert Holmberg said the evidence is “incontrovertible” that exposure to cigarette smoke causes medical disorders in children, including asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and heart disease.

“Children are the most in need of the protection by public policy, because they can’t protect themselves,” he said.

Holmberg told the council the cost of providing health care to children exposed to secondhand smoke is “astronomical.”

Other supporters included representatives from the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and the Fusion Bangor development group, who argued that the ordinance would demonstrate the city’s dedication to children, families and a healthy work force.

Shawn Yardley of the city’s Department of Health and Welfare said the ordinance would help attract state, federal and private foundation grant dollars to promote public health initiatives.

The measure had some detractors at Monday’s meeting. Aaron Prill of Bangor said the ordinance was a “feel-good option” that was not intended to protect children but to “moralize” against smokers. Most smokers have enough common sense not to smoke around children, he said.

Children are exposed to more smoke in their homes than in cars, said Eugene Savoy of Davis Road in Bangor. His wife, Denise Savoy, said the council should allow residents to vote on the measure.

Council members debated at length before taking the final vote. Councilor Susan Hawes said police should devote their energies to more important issues, and that there’s already too much government intervention in residents’ lives. Councilor Anne Allen stressed the importance of developing a strong educational campaign to enhance the new law. Councilor Gerry Palmer said he was willing to go out on a limb and pass a measure that might draw criticism but had the potential to serve the public interest. Councilor Geoffery Gratwick urged the council to show leadership and set an example for the rest of the state.

The measure passed, with Councilors Susan Hawes, Frank Farrington and Peter D’Errico voting against it.

Similar statewide measures have been adopted in Arkansas and Louisiana and are under consideration in several other states.

Correction: A Page One story in Tuesday’s paper about a ban on smoking in cars when children are present inaccurately paraphrased the testimony of Bangor pediatrician Robert Holmberg before the Bangor City Council. Holmberg did not state there was a causal link between exposure to secondhand smoke and heart disease in children, as reported. Reached for clarification Thursday evening, Holmberg said there is a strong correlation between smoking and heart disease in adults. While most cardiac disease in children is congenital, he said, medical experts are concerned that long-term damage to the heart muscle may be linked to childhood exposure to the toxins contained in cigarette smoke, although current studies do not support a direct correlation. Exposure to secondhand smoke is strongly correlated with a number of childhood respiratory disorders, however.

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