PORTLAND (AP) – Now that Maine’s public spaces such as workplaces, schools and restaurants have become virtually smoke-free, health advocates are looking to restrict smoking in private areas such as cars and apartments.

Bangor already outlaws smoking in cars with child passengers, and state Rep. Patricia Blanchette has proposed a similar measure that would cover the entire state.

Meanwhile, a growing number of landlords and housing authorities are imposing no-smoking rules on their tenants. Tina Pettingill, who chairs the Smoke-Free Housing Coalition, estimates that 40 percent of Maine’s rental housing is smoke-free.

The coalition’s online registry lists 1,800 apartments, which Pettingill said is just a fraction of the number that should be on the list.

While health advocates are concerned about the dangers of smoking and inhalation of secondhand smoke, especially by children, the new approach is causing dismay among smokers and some civil libertarians.

“This is taking away people’s freedom of choice,” said David Burns, a building manager in Portland who smokes up to a pack of Pall Malls a day. “It’s because of people who don’t smoke and don’t want other people to, either.”

Groups such as the Maine Civil Liberties Union have expressed concerns about the proposed smoking ban in cars, which involves traffic stops and $50 fines.

“While we do not dispute that smoking has potentially severe health effects, the question is whether it’s appropriate for law enforcement to be given the power to stop and penalize people who engage in an otherwise legal activity,” said Shenna Bellows, MCLU executive director. ban tramples on their rights.

Bangor’s ordinance took effect in January, but police have yet to issue any citations. Deputy Police Chief Peter Arno said that while smokers may be following the law, the department lacks the personnel to actively seek out offenders with roadblocks and special patrols.

The smoke-free housing coalition has no plans to seek legislation, according to Pettingill, who noted that the group has succeeded in convincing many landlords that making apartments smoke-free saves money on replacing burned carpets and removing tar from walls.

“We don’t even mention health,” she said. “It’s a business decision for them.”

A report being released Monday by the University of Maine says the cost of treating children for problems related to secondhand smoke is at least $8 million a year, two-thirds of which is borne by Medicaid.

“The health evidence is clear to me that secondhand smoke has proven ill effects,” said Mary Davis, the UMaine economist who wrote the report.

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-10-21-07 1118EDT


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