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Downtown park regulars fuming over Manchester's newly imposed smoking ban

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 16. 2017 9:14PM
Officer Paul Rondeau, atop his horse Valor, enforces the smoking ban by stopping a man from lighting up at Veterans Memorial Park in Manchester on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Vicki Gabaree of Manchester smokes in front of the Visitor Center just outside of Veterans Park in Manchester on Wednesday. The city is banning smoking at downtown Manchester parks. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Visitors to downtown parks expressed astonishment and anger Wednesday over a ban on smoking at five downtown parks, a ban that went into effect after a late-night vote Tuesday by Manchester aldermen.

The ban, imposed as a test, will last for six months and applies to Veterans Memorial Park, Victory Park, Pulaski Park, Bronstein Park and Stanton Plaza.

All are within walking distance of downtown, and all except Bronstein Park regularly draw poor and homeless people who sit on benches, lie in the shade, generally keep to themselves. And smoke cigarettes. Several said they see it as just a means for harassing the homeless.

“They treat the smokers like another minority. Give me a break; we’re in fresh air,” said Timmy Hartlen, who said he is homeless but does some contracting work at a local tavern. People are dying with needles in their arms, and now police are worried about smoking, he said.

“I gave up alcohol, I gave up street drugs, at least let my have my flippin’ cigarettes,” said Allen Crigger, 36, who sat on the brick steps at the base of the Victory Park monument. He had an unsmoked cigarette and three half-smoked cigarettes beside him; although he said he didn’t smoke in the park Wednesday afternoon, he didn’t rule out doing so in the future.

“I honestly don’t see it lasting; half of Manchester is cigarette smokers,” Crigger said.

On Tuesday, aldermen enacted the six-month ban at the urging of Police Chief Nick Willard, who said people were using city parks to smoke synthetic marijuana, a chemical mixture that is typically referred to as spice.

Recently, police issued 20 tickets for smoking spice in city parks.

In a statement issued Wednesday, police said the ban takes effect immediately and involves any tobacco-related product, including snuff and chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes and dissolvable tobacco products. It does not include any smoking-cessation product licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Civil libertarians appear to be looking at the ban. In a terse email, the legal director of the ACLU-New Hampshire, said “at this stage, we have not yet taken a position on this.”

Police said they will spend two weeks educating people about the ban. During that time, No Smoking signs will go up in parks.

Initially, police will issue warnings. But tickets and penalties will follow: a $50 fine for the first violation, $100 for the second, a mandatory appearance at District Court for the third, according to Assistant Police Chief Carlo Capano.

“That’s ridiculous. It’s wasting more of the cops’ time. What could the cops be doing? Maybe they could help get heroin off the streets,” said Melysia Caron, 29, who said she is a heroin addict.

Caron spoke at Victory Park, her foam mattress spread on the brick steps at the park center. She said she prefers Victory Park because she doesn’t like the drama among spice smokers at Veterans Memorial Park, she said.

“Would I pay (the fine)? Absolutely not,” she said. “They can take my ass to Valley Street (jail).”

Meanwhile, about a dozen regulars at the one downtown park not included in the ban — Kalivas Park — said they were already seeing the effect of the ban.

Several newcomers were laying on the park lawn and smoking spice, said the regulars.

The block-sized park is just east of the SNHU Arena and between two high-rise housing apartments for the elderly and disabled.

Bonnie Ellsmore said spice users litter the park with empty food containers, which stems from the hunger that follows after smoking spice.

“Veterans Park gets trashed,” she said. “We keep this park clean every day.”

Health Outdoors Public Safety Local and County Government Manchester

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