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Maine ski resort is first to ban smoking

Decision could begin a trend others will follow, group says

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RUMFORD, Maine — Skiers atop Black Mountain here may find the clean, crisp air just a little cleaner this winter.

When Black Mountain opened for the season on Dec. 10, it became the first ski resort in the nation to ban tobacco use everywhere, including the lodge, the trails and the lifts, state and industry officials said.

But it probably will not be the last.

"I think it's the beginning of a trend I think you'll see more of," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, a trade group in Lakewood, Colo.

Maine banned smoking last year in virtually all indoor spaces except hotel rooms, homes, smoke shops and privately chartered buses. Although ski resorts in Maine and throughout the country have been subject to local and state laws prohibiting smoking indoors, outside had always been fair territory for smokers.

Black Mountain, which bills itself as family-friendly, has prominently posted signs reading "This is a tobacco-free facility."

Terrie Anne Bennett, the resort's general manager, said the goal was to protect children from secondhand smoke. Bennett conceived the policy last August after meeting with members of the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition, a local group that promotes health and uses some of Maine's money from the 1998 tobacco settlement to help curb smoking.

Anyone caught, for instance, passing time on a chairlift with a cigarette or spitting chewing tobacco into a snowbank is pulled aside and told that tobacco is prohibited.

"I'm not the smoking police or the chew police," Bennett said. "I inform them why it's important to us, and people are very compliant."

The resort has, however, received a number of complaints.

"I've had one person say they're going to drive by the mountain and blow smoke out the window," Bennett said. "If they feel that way, fine."

The decision may well keep away skiers like Stephen Helfer, a member of Cambridge Citizens for Smokers' Rights, a group in Massachusetts that opposes restrictions on tobacco use.

"If I did go there, I would certainly consider defying the rule because I think it's a form of petty tyranny," Helfer said.

"They say smoking is unnatural, but it's ecological smugness," he said. "They have lifts there using energy, which creates air pollution, and all the people going to Black Mountain are polluting with their cars."

But Susan Duka, 51, a teacher from Hanover, Maine, who was sitting in the lodge at Black Mountain while her 12-year-old son, Matt, put on his ski boots, said she was happy that he would not be tempted to take up smoking at the resort, where he skis a few days a week.

"A lot of children are dropped off here," Duka said, "and it's comforting to know that that particular influence is not here."