This article was originally published at The Arab American News by Ali Harb and can be found on their website here.
DEARBORN — The City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would restrict smoking in parks at its meeting on Tuesday. The resolution would make it illegal to smoke near playing areas.
A blanket ban against smoking in parks failed to pass last year after backlash from community members who argued that such regulation would target Arab Americans who smoke hookah at the parks.
The current resolution outlaws smoking in mini parks and within 15 feet of playgrounds at community parks. Violators would incur a $50 civil infraction.
After opposition from the community, the council sent the 2015 controversial resolution to the recreation commission to weigh in on it.
A new ordinance was drafted based on the commission’s recommendations. The proposal will become law after a second and final reading at the next council meeting.
Comedian Amer Zahr, who was vocal against the proposed ban last year, described the new ordinance as a “fair compromise.”
“Arabs fill up the Dearborn parks on a nice day,” Zahr wrote in an article last year. “We bring our way of life, complete with kabobs, sunflower seeds, loud conversations and hookahs. We definitely make our presence known. And that has made some people uncomfortable.”
Zahr credited the reaction of the community for stopping the initial proposal.
“I do think this was a result of the pressure that we put on the City Council to not pass an ordinance that looked on its face to be discriminatory,” he said. “The City Council knew very well that if they were to push through the same ordinance, they’d get the same opposition from those of us in the community who thought they were targeting Arabs.”
Councilman Mike Sareini, one of the leading voices against the proposal last year, also welcomed the “reasonable restrictions” of the new resolution.
“I am not pro-smoking,” Sareini told The Arab American News last July. “But I am against taking people’s liberties and freedoms away, especially when there was not an issue with what they were doing. That’s big government. I am not pro-big government.”
Sareini said the council should protect public health without being intrusive.
“That has always been my position on the record,” Sareini told The Arab American News Wednesday. “We could have done that from the beginning as a council, but some people wanted a total ban.”
Council President Susan Dabaja also advocated for the partial ban last year.
Dabaja said that after listening to residents on both sides of the issue, she felt a compromise was necessary.
“Some people felt that a total ban was unfair because it impeded their right to participate in an activity that’s legal,” she said. “And then there were residents who did not want to relate to the smoke, which I can relate to as a non-smoker. At the time last year I did propose a middle ground, which was to ban smoking particularly around areas where our children are playing.”
Dabaja said she urged the recreation commission to engage prominent Arab American activists before giving its recommendations.
When the suggestion to outlaw smoking within a certain distance from playing areas was presented last year, some council members were concerned that such an ordinance would be hard to enforce. They argued that it would be difficult for officers to issue citations by visually measuring how far a smoker is from the restricted spots.
However, Dabaja said the council is seeking compliance with the rules through education and signs.
“People in general are mindful of not smoking around children, anyway,” she said. “This will only help encourage that mindset and ensure that our children are not exposed to smoke when they’re out in the parks.”