TOWNSEND -- During the warmer weather people flock to Townsend common for band concerts and fairs. People sit on the lawn and chat, while others wander through the park among the vendors.
Some of them smoke. Others do not like that.
The town's ban on smoking in public places is not being enforced, according to resident Karen Clement. "It would be nice to be on the common without someone puffing a cigarette," she said.
"Most people are reluctant to say anything to a stranger. On Earth Day, I put up my own signs," she said. Clement is an organizer for the annual event, usually one of the first of the season on the common.
When a nonsmoking regulation was approved by the Board of Health in 1999, signs were everywhere and there were articles in the newspaper, she said.
"Then, of course, that went by the wayside. The police really didn't want to enforce" the ban, she said.
Police Lt. David Profit acknowledges the police do not enforce a nonsmoking policy on the common. The 1999 ban was primarily intended to prevent businesses from selling tobacco products to minors, he said.
"There used to be a lot of money available," Profit said, "We were pretty proactive with tobacco compliance checks and educational programs for merchants."
"We don't have the manpower to enforce tobacco regulations. We have the ability to cite people through the town bylaw," he said. It is rarely used unless a complaint arises involving a minor or a business.
"No one has complained to us or suggested to us that there is a problem (on the common) that I'm aware of," Profit said.
The smoking bylaw that went into effect nearly 15 years ago and forbids smoking in public places also requires signs to be posted in the restricted area. The town was given free signs by the Central Massachusetts Boards of Health Tobacco and Alcohol Control Alliance at that time, said Joan Hamlett, director of the program and the designated tobacco enforcement agent for the town.
The signs alone will probably eliminate most of the smoke, she said, "If smokers see signs, they're usually pretty considerate."
Signs were never put up at the common. The area is part of a historic district and restrictions exist on what can be permanently installed. Clement recently provided one of the nonsmoking signs for the board to review.
Anti-smoking efforts at the school level have increased. The Police Department received grants this year to resume running the DARE program at the fifth-grade level.
The town and the North Middlesex Regional School District joined forces with the tobacco control alliance to enforce a smoke-free zone at the schools.
If a student is caught smoking at a school, a designated person can write a civil citation, Police Sgt. Cheryl Stevenson said. Hamlett coordinates and monitors the program, ensuring that fines are paid at town hall or at the Ayer District Court. "It seems to be having a positive effect," Stevenson said.
If the $100 fine is not paid, it will become a criminal matter. The Registry of Motor Vehicles can take action against an offender's license.