City parks should have smoking areas

We think the Rock Hill City Council is justified in banning smoking in most areas of the city’s parks. But we wish city officials had set aside a small space in each park for smokers to indulge their habit.

The city has been debating a smoking ban in city parks for more than a year. Last year, the issue was deadlocked in a 3-3 vote by the council.

But the ban proposal was resurrected this year, and on Monday council members voted 4-3 on first reading to approve a comprehensive ban on smoking anywhere in city parks. The ban also extends to so-called vaping, the use of e-cigarettes that emit vapor instead of smoke.

Smoking bans in public places, ranging from restaurants and bars to ballparks and beaches, are generally warranted as a matter of protecting public health. People should not be unwillingly subjected to the hazards of other people’s bad habits.

The dangers of second-hand smoke are well documented. And the public finally has come to accept that smoking will be prohibited in nearly all public places in which people congregate.

But there are exceptions. For example, places of work often provide a designated smoking area for employees.

The threat of second-hand smoke also is less severe in outdoor areas where it dissipates more quickly than indoors. That is a major reason we support designated smoking areas in Rock Hill’s parks.

There is a danger of overreaching with bans. By going beyond the issue of protecting public health to banning smoking simply because a lot of people find it objectionable, advocates weaken their own case.

Councilman Kevin Sutton, who opposes the ban, has a point: Government can go only so far in regulating people’s health habits. He notes that the city’s parks sell hot dogs and sugary soft drinks, which can be hazardous to one’s health when consumed in excess. He also notes the hypocrisy of providing designated smoking areas for city employees in the workplace but not doing the same for smokers in parks.

Let’s be clear: People shouldn’t be subjected to smokers sitting next to them on the bleachers at their children’s soccer match. But why can’t the city set up a corner of the parking lot or a similarly remote area in the parks as a roped-off space for smokers?

A ban on smoking in all but a few square feet of our city parks is a legitimate way to protect public health. But smokers should have a small area to themselves.

Those who advocate smoking bans need to be careful that they are acting to mitigate a health hazard, not simply to prevent people from indulging in a habit of which they don’t approve.