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Dearborn considers banning smoking in parks

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Dearborn — The next frontier in smoking bans is unfolding in Metro Detroit, with Dearborn mulling whether it should be illegal to light up in city parks.

After months of discussion, a vote on an ordinance was on Tuesday night’s City Council agenda, but the measure has been referred to the city’s recreation committee instead.

Though the proposed ordinance would cover all of the city’s 43 parks, it’s possible the recreation commission, which meets in August, could recommend a ban in only the smaller parks.

Dearborn City Councilman Mike Sareini said most bans in the state are in northern Michigan, where many parks are beaches. He said there has been tremendous push-back in the community, and that’s why the proposed ban has been referred for further study.

“It’s intrusive,” Sareini said. “It’s open air.”

During a recent council meeting, he pointed to a man who smokes a cigar every Saturday in the park and reads a book.

“He should have the right to do that as long as it is not impeding on other people’s health,” said Sareini.

The issue is part of a larger strategy involving Oakwood Healthcare, and many community partners, to promote healthier living, said Mayor Jack O’Reilly.

But there are concerns, including enforcement.

“A law that is not enforced is not a very good law,” O’Reilly said. “We need to figure out what works.”

Ban supporters say smoking should not be allowed in places where children play and others want to enjoy fresh air.

“It’s offensive to breathe smoke,” said Dearborn resident Scott Drogs, at Ford Field Park on Sunday with his wife, daughter and dog. “You want to be out here in the fresh air. If you are sitting by someone who’s smoking, it is not pleasant.”

But others balk at the idea.

A resident who visits the park every morning with his coffee and cigarettes said it’s his right to smoke, and he will continue to do it even if a law is passed.

“I am going to come down here and smoke anyway,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “If a park ranger asks me to stop, I will go in my car and smoke. It’s my God-given right to smoke.”

Birmingham was among the first local municipalities to ban smoking in parks, in 2012. More recently, Ann Arbor enacted a ban in February, declaring 77 of the 158 city parks smoke-free. Violators face a fine of up to $25.

The park bans followed the May 2010 law making Michigan the 38th state in the country to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and outdoor patios of businesses.

About the same time, Michigan universities and hospitals started banning smoking, and the operators of parks began to follow suit.

According to a 2012 article in the journal Health Affairs, 843 parks in the country had smoking bans, plus 150 beaches.

Some cities include designated spaces for smokers at parks, an accommodation Dearborn officials have discussed.

“There are a lot of kids in the parks,” said Andre Turfe, a Canton resident visiting Ford Field Park Sunday morning before going to work in Dearborn Heights. “They shouldn’t be smoking around kids. It’s a bad example.”