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Pembroke outdoor smoking ban part of a rising trend in N.H., across the U.S.

  • A cigarette butt sits in a parking lot at Memorial Field in Pembroke on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, two days after the town's select board passed an ordinance banning smoking at the park. NICK UPTON—Monitor staff

  • Signs prohibiting smoking at Memorial Field in Pembroke are shown on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, two days after the town's select board passed an ordinance banning smoking at the park. The signs were already in place at the time of the vote and required the ordinance's passage to take effect. NICK UPTON—Monitor staff

  • Signs prohibiting smoking at Memorial Field in Pembroke are shown on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, two days after the town's select board passed an ordinance banning smoking at the park. The signs were already in place at the time of the vote and required the ordinance's passage to take effect. NICK UPTON—Monitor staff

  • Signs prohibiting smoking at Memorial Field in Pembroke are shown Wednesday, two days after the town’s select board passed an ordinance banning smoking at the park. The signs were already in place at the time of the vote and required the ordinance’s passage to take effect. NICK UPTON / Monitor staff

  • Not all signs had yet been unveiled on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, two days after the Pembroke select board passed an ordinance banning smoking at Memorial Field. The signs were already in place at the time of the vote and required the ordinance's passage to become enforceable. NICK UPTON—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Pembroke is joining a small but growing number of towns and cities in New Hampshire – and across the country – that have banned smoking in outdoor public spaces.

On Monday, the select board passed a nonsmoking ordinance for Memorial Field, a collection of ballfields, playgrounds and green space along the Merrimack River that is playing host to Old Home Day this Saturday.

The new ordinance adds Pembroke to what’s become an “established trend,” according to Liz Williams of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. More than 1,500 municipalities across the country have local laws that require all municipal parks to be 100 percent smoke-free, she said. That’s less than 4 percent, but it’s a growing number, Williams said.

The Memorial Field ordinance, passed Monday night by the select board, applies to tobacco, smoking-related paraphernalia and products that simulate tobacco. Vaping is included. The vote came days before the town’s combined Old Home Day with Allenstown this weekend, but it extends year-round.

While the policy’s passage just before the holiday adds a new wrinkle for visitors at the outdoor event, they shouldn’t expect a hard-nosed crackdown from police.

“My total plan is education,” Pembroke police Chief Wayne Gilman said. “You don’t know who understands when the new law was passed, so you just try to help them.”

The ordinance puts Pembroke in position to become at least the fifth New Hampshire city or town – behind Berlin, Laconia, Peterborough and Somersworth – to adopt a ban in public parks and outdoor spaces, according to data collected by the nonsmokers’ rights foundation through October 2017.

The number of outdoor smoking ordinances is likely higher, Williams said, partly due to the fact that the list was last updated in October and partly due to specific guidelines for eligibility, which require a blanket ban for all of a city or town’s outdoor spaces.

Indoor smoking laws are a different story. New Hampshire is one of 13 states where indoor smoking is the purview of the state – not local municipalities – as was seen in 2007 when then-Gov. John Lynch signed a law banning smoking in restaurants and bars, as well as with longer-running bans in public buildings, schools and elevators.

Pembroke’s brand-new ordinance may tick the boxes to make the list of outdoor-space smoking bans, but it hasn’t yet been added. And other New Hampshire municipalities like Manchester are also taking action; the Queen City rolled out a similar ban in six of its city parks this summer but also isn’t on the list.

The motivation for Manchester’s ordinance differs a bit from Pembroke’s, at least in the short term. Former city police chief Nick Willard proposed the ordinance last summer as a tool to help officers crack down on “spice” – synthetic marijuana – and other drugs in its parks, according to a report in the Union Leader.

Gilman said that’s not so much of a problem in Pembroke, but he noted that part of the reason he got behind the Memorial Field ordinance was that it could be someday.

“If they’re having a problem in the park with people getting sick on spice ... it’s a matter of time before Pembroke has it, Concord has it, everyone else has it,” he said.

And in the short term, the town has already seen results of a different variety. The ordinance was spearheaded as part of an Eagle Scout project, which helped the town have signs in place before the ordinance even passed the select board. And the results aren’t just less smoke in the air, but a big reduction in litter on the ground and an easier time for park workers.

“They pick up half the butts just by people seeing the signs,” Gilman said.

(Nick Upton can be reached at 224-3315 or at
nupton@cmonitor.com.)