LEWISTON — Following the state's lead of not allowing smoking in state parks and beaches, the Androscoggin Land Trust will be asking anyone using their land not to smoke.
Signs advising the public of the new rule will be posted in the coming days, said Executive Director Jonathan LaBonte.
The no-smoking policy only applies to land owned by the trust, not land owned by cities and towns, or land easements ALT manages. For example, in Lewiston the no-smoking rule will apply to the David Rancourt River Preserve, which includes 14 acres and walking trails that begin behind Marden's on Tall Pines Drive. In Auburn, smoking will be banned at the Sherwood Forest Conservation Area, 28 acres with fields and trails near Sherwood Heights Elementary School.
The ALT also owns woods, fields and trails in Jay, Greene, Hebron, Turner, Canton and Bowdoin, where the no-smoking policy will apply.
Unlike the smoking ban at state parks, the land trust no-smoking rule is more of a request, not a law.
But the public is good about following advisories from posted signs, LaBonte said.
The no-smoking policy was approved by the land trust's board last month, said Sarah Mayberry of Healthy Androscoggin.
"The new law that covers Maine state parks and beaches from smoking, this is the same movement to protect folks from secondhand smoke, reduce the litter and fire risks," she said. "It's an exciting accomplishment, an exciting movement. There will be a lot of space protected from tobacco use."
On some trails there is now not much smoking, but on others closer to populated areas, such as the trail near Tall Pines in Lewiston and a park off Route 4 in Turner, there's a higher chance someone would sit on a bench or picnic table and smoke, LaBonte said.
The land trust wants to promote more people getting outdoors, and it wants to ensure those areas are tobacco-free, he said. Actively promoting no smoking also removes a risk of fire in remote areas, he said.
The policy was researched and written by a Healthy Androscoggin youth group at Auburn Middle School. Students learned why the policy was being proposed, researched the need for it, wrote the language and made a presentation to the land trust board — which adopted the policy, Mayberry said.
Having students research and write the policy helped them build new skills, "and hopefully they'll take away from it that they have the ability to make change, that they have a voice."
With more emphasis on healthy lifestyles and the dangers of tobacco, plus higher cigarette taxes, smoking has declined in Maine and in the nation.
Statewide, the smoking rate in 2008 was 18.2 percent; nationally, it was 18.4 percent, according to the Partnership for a Tobacco Free Maine.
"We're higher in Androscoggin County," Mayberry said. The latest county data from 2006 showed that 24.5 percent of Androscoggin County adults smoked.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national smoking rate is at its lowest level since the late 1920s. The highest was in 1965 when 42.4 percent of American adults smoked.
Even though the rate is dropping, the number of deaths from cigarettes is rising, with 443,000 deaths each year attributed to tobacco use, according to the CDC.