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Rock Hill might put limit on smoking in city parks

Two years after Rock Hill passed an indoor public smoking ban, a local group might push for new limits on where people can light up outdoors in city parks.

One possibility would create designated smoking areas at park venues, said Toy Rhea, a member of the city's parks and recreation commission, which has discussed the issue at its last two meetings.

"It's something we need to be looking at," Rhea said.

Rock Hill long has taken pride in a nationally recognized parks system - from Glencairn Garden near downtown to softball, soccer and tennis sports complexes in other areas.

Another anti-smoking push could bring protests from opponents of the current ban. So far, it's only a topic of discussion among the nine-member parks advisory group.

"This is very important and should be discussed more," the group decided, according to minutes from its December meeting.

Mayor: Stick with current rules

Mayor Doug Echols said he is satisfied with Rock Hill's current policy, which applies to restaurants, bars and indoor public gathering spots under rules passed with York County in 2009.

The city talked about including parks, Echols said, but concluded that people can move away from smokers in the "vast majority" of outdoor places.

"We've been through the process of where it should apply," Echols said. "I'm comfortable with where we are."

Enforcement is handled on a complaint-driven basis, meaning police don't look for smokers but respond when contacted. Officers have issued four citations, a department spokesman said Friday. Violators can face $25 fines.

Dr. Alan Nichols noted that crowds often congregate in parks for youth sports games and performances. If nothing else, he said, restrictions would reduce litter from cigarette butts.

"If you're in close quarters outdoors, presumably, you could inhale enough secondhand smoke to have some health consequences," said Nichols, of the Tobacco Free York County Coalition.

"That sort of thing has not been studied. What I do know is cigarette smoking can be very irritating, even outdoors."

Brad Hickel, co-owner of Rock City Tavern, led the fight against an indoor ban two years ago, calling it a case of government intrusion.

Hickel sounded a more diplomatic tone Friday. He said limits for parks might make sense, as long as smokers are given suitable locations.

"If you want to make a designated area away from where the children are, I wouldn't oppose it at all," he said.

"That's justifiably reasonable for both sides."

Park bans more common

About 400 U.S. cities have banned smoking in public parks, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in September, including on beaches, lakefronts and in recreation areas.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is pursuing a broader smoking ban for 1,700 parks and 14 miles of public beaches, plus boardwalks, marinas and pedestrian plazas.

That would mean no smoking in Central Park or traffic-free pedestrian areas in Times Square.

In Rock Hill, most complaints have surfaced at Cherry Park, where crowds gather in the summer for softball tournaments, said Brother David Boone, chairman of the parks and recreation commission.

"We would set aside a certain area for smoking that would be far away from bleachers and spectators," said Boone. "I think it would be best for all concerned."

Boone said his group will look at policies from other cities and make a recommendation in the next few months.