Rock Hill proposal for smoking ban for parks passes first reading

A proposal that would snuff out smoking in Rock Hill city parks cleared an initial hurdle Monday night.

In a 4-3 vote, the Rock Hill City Council approved the first reading of a proposal that would ban smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes, in all parks owned and operated by the city.

Council members were divided while weighing public health versus individual rights.

Noting that Piedmont Medical Center, Winthrop University, York Technical College and all public schools in Rock Hill are smoke-free campuses, Mayor Doug Echols said there is plenty of support for not allowing smoking in parks.

“I think the impression that’s given to young children in and around our playgrounds is not one that we want,” he said of allowing smoking in parks. “We don’t allow alcoholic beverages to be consumed out there.”

Council member Kevin Sutton advocated finding a middle ground by allowing designated smoking areas in parks away from playgrounds, and said government can only go so far in regulating people’s health habits.

“We sell soft drinks, we sell hot dogs, we sell nachos at concession stands,” he said. “If government is going to come in and save the world and protect us, we should outlaw bacon to our city employees. At some point, people have to live their lives. They shouldn’t infringe on others.”

Sutton also took issue with the city providing designated smoking areas for its employees at some of its properties but not at parks.

“What about the employees of the parks and recreation system that may work at Cherry Park?” he said. “... Are we not talking out of both sides of our mouth that we will do something for our employees but not our citizens?”

Council member Kathy Pender said designating certain areas for smoking would be complicated.

“A lot of our parks, they are used and a lot of the park is used,” she said. “For example, in Cherry Park, I think it would be very difficult to find a smoking area on the park grounds that is not in use by those who are there for health and wellness.”

Dave Keely, vice chair of Tobacco Free York County Coalition, said his group has received multiple complaints about litter and secondhand smoke due to smoking, particularly in Cherry Park.

City Attorney Paul Dillingham explained to the council that the ban would be enforced as any other park rule, with the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department responsible for enforcing it by asking violators to either obey the rule or leave the park.

Smokers breathed a sigh of relief early last year when the council failed to pass a similar measure. After discussing whether and how to best regulate smoking in the city’s parks and recreation centers, council members split 3-3 in the vote, with Sutton and council members John Black and Ann Williamson voting against the measure, arguing any limits on smoking in parks would be too restrictive.

Council member Sandra Oborokumo was not present at the March 2015 council meeting, depriving the council of a potentially decisive vote. She voted against the measure Monday.

The ordinance represents another step in the city’s efforts to regulate smoking. In 2009, the council banned smoking in all enclosed spaces such as schools, businesses and city property. Smoking is also prohibited in city-owned vehicles. Both bans apply to traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

The latest proposal will have its second reading at the next council meeting.