Rock Hill enacts smoking ban in public parks

File- This June 12, 2013, file photo shows a person posing with an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette.
File- This June 12, 2013, file photo shows a person posing with an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette. AP

Smokers will no longer be able to light up in public parks, courtesy of a decision Monday by the Rock Hill City Council.

In a 4-2 vote, the council approved the second reading and adoption of a proposal that bans smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes, in all parks owned and operated by the city.

The decision required no discussion by the council, and no one spoke to the council prior to the vote.

Two weeks earlier, the council approved the first reading of the proposal with a 4-3 vote in favor of the ban. Much of the council’s discussion then was about individual liberty versus public health.

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.

Piedmont Medical Center, Winthrop University, York Technical College and all public schools in Rock Hill are smoke-free campuses.

Mayor Doug Echols said at the first reading there was plenty of support for the ban.

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

Council member Kevin Sutton argued that government should only go so far to regulate health habits, and advocated to allow designated smoking areas in parks away from playgrounds.

“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.”

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 stop smoking or leave the park.

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.

A similar measure failed early last year. After discussing whether and how to best regulate smoking in the city’s parks and recreation centers, council members split 3-3 in the 2015 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.

Black was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Council member Sandra Oborokumo was not present at the 2015 council meeting, depriving the council of a potentially decisive vote.

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham