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This time, Rock Hill may have votes to stop smoking in parks

Judy Teal, right, has a picnic with her mother, Betty Floyd, and grandchildren Bentlee Watts, 2, left, and Neely Watts Tuesday at Cherry Park in Rock Hill. Teal said she began smoking as a teenager because she didn’t know the dangers, but quit 36 years ago.
Judy Teal, right, has a picnic with her mother, Betty Floyd, and grandchildren Bentlee Watts, 2, left, and Neely Watts Tuesday at Cherry Park in Rock Hill. Teal said she began smoking as a teenager because she didn’t know the dangers, but quit 36 years ago. tkimball@heraldonline.com

Smokers thought it was safe to take a pack to the park after the Rock Hill City Council deadlocked last year on efforts to ban puffing in city-run parks.

But now the issue could get a second hearing. Councilwoman Kathy Pender said she wants a smoking ban proposal brought up for a vote by the council, meaning the city could take the first action to snuff out smoking as early as next month. And this time, the motion may have the votes to pass.

Pender requested the issue come back up for a vote at Monday’s council meeting, after receiving complaints from residents about smoking at sporting events in city parks.

On March 9, 2015, the council stalled on a proposal from the city’s parks commission to ban smoking in Rock Hill’s 21 parks and recreation centers. Pender, Mayor Doug Echols and Jim Reno were in favor of a smoking ban back then, but John Black, Kevin Sutton and Ann Williamson voted against considering any measures to stop or curtail tobacco use in the parks.

Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo was absent for that meeting, depriving the council of a potentially decisive vote. This week, Oborokumo said she’s also received similar complaints from residents using city parks and said she would consider making parks smoke-free.

“Just walking to the parking lot, they can’t get to their car because someone is smoking, and that can really affect someone,” Oborokumo said.

Other council members didn’t seem to have changed their minds since the issue last came up for a vote. Sutton worried a ban could impact Rock Hill’s burgeoning sports tourism industry.

“At the BMX course, we have people coming in from all over the world, and smoking is not as taboo in other places as it is in the U.S.,” he said.

If somebody’s smoking behind a tree, they shouldn’t get arrested.

Rock Hill City Councilman John Black

Sutton said the city would end up paying an attorney to draft an ordinance that at least three council members have already indicated they aren’t interested in. Others said city policy should be more limited or permit smoking in designated areas. Black said he hoped the parks department could adopt a policy short of an ordinance.

“If somebody’s smoking behind a tree, they shouldn’t get arrested,” he said.

But Pender argued that most other places a smoking visitor would go are already considered smoke-free.

“Hotels are non-smoking,” she said. “Winthrop sporting events are all non-smoking.”

Oborokumo said she leans toward a total smoking ban, noting the town of Clover has had a similar ban in place for years now.

“I think a no-smoking policy would be feasible,” she said.

No smokers could be found in city parks Tuesday, but former smoker Judy Teal brought her young grandchildren out to play in Cherry Park. She said she took up smoking in her younger days because she saw older people doing it, and worries about her grandchildren getting the same message from people smoking around them. Besides, since she quit smoking the secondhand smoke bothers her.

“If they could stop it, it would be altogether a good thing,” Teal said.

The Herald’s Tracy Kimball contributed

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome

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