June 12. 2014 9:29PM

Smoking bans in parks can get a little cloudy

Union Leader Correspondent

New Hampshire communities are tackling the issue of smoking in public parks and spaces.

In Claremont, City Council members passed over a proposed ordinance to ban smoking in public parks Wednesday after residents expressed their opposition at the meeting as well as through emails and comments to councilors before the meeting, City Manager Guy Santagate said.

City Council members have asked city staff to rewrite the draft allowing for areas of each city park to be set aside for smoking.

Council members are concerned about protecting non-smokers in public parks, especially children, Santagate said.

In Pelham, a smoking ban in the town’s five parks proposed two weeks ago was dropped after selectmen were advised by an attorney with the New Hampshire Municipal Association that state law only forbids smoking at indoor public places.

The Pelham board had voted 3-2 on May 27 to ban smoking in town parks, Pelham Selectmen Chairman Ed Gleason said.

The vote was made contingent on legal approval, he said.

“We had a discussion for putting various signs up in town,” Gleason said. “One of the questions that was brought up was whether or not we should put on the signs ‘no smoking.’”

Though he has smoked in the past, Gleason said he was also involved with Little League for 20 years and believes that smoking around children is not appropriate. There was also a concern from some on the board that smoking on hiking trails or on park land is a fire hazard.

Gleason said he and the other board members backed off on the ban after learning state law doesn’t give municipalities the authority to enact or enforce such bans.

“You start spending taxpayer money in challenges,” he said. “We don’t have the statutory authority. We could request it, but choose not to.”

In March, voters in Rye passed Article 24, a nonbinding resolution that declares all nine town beach areas as smoke-free zones.

Police Chief Kevin Walsh said signs will ask beachgoers not to smoke, but they will not face a penalty or fine if they do.

“If a police officer or lifeguard sees someone smoking on a town beach, they will point out the signs and let them know that it’s a smoke-free zone, but that’s really the limit of what they will do,” the chief said in March.

In Newport, Selectmen Chairman Gary Nichols said the recently adopted smoking ban was drafted by the town police chief and reviewed by legal counsel.

The ordinance is aimed at public gatherings on town land such as outdoor concerts, the farmers’ market or ball games.

Nichols said the ordinance also bans smoking around play structures where children typically gather.

The signs have just gone up and the ordinance hasn’t been enforced yet, he said.

“Every time you do something like that you have pros and cons, and you try to navigate down the middle,” Nichols said.

Nichols said he feels confident the outdoor smoking ban on town land is legal.

Santagate said he doesn’t see a legality issue in Claremont’s proposed smoking ordinance for city parks.

“It’s a limited ban in that each place would have an area to smoke,” Santagate said.