Article published at The Arab American News by Ali Harb
Link to original content: Original Story
An ordinance that would ban smoking at parks in Dearborn caused outrage among Arab Americans who say the proposed ban specifically targets hookah smokers.
The City Council tabled the ordinance last week in order to discuss a memo that would exempt golf courses from the ban. The ordinance had passed the first reading unanimously and would have become law on June 23, but Councilman Robert Abraham asked about the golf course memo, which delayed the voting until July 21.
The ordinance outlaws “exhaling smoke from burning tobacco or any other burning product that is contained in a hookah, pipe, cigar, cigarette and/or e-cigarette” within Dearborn parks.
Abraham denied accusations that the ordinance singles out Arab Americans.
“That’s false,” he told The Arab American News. “The culture overall in the United States is changing, and smoking is becoming less popular and acceptable in a lot of places. It wasn’t that long ago when you could smoke at restaurants and on airplanes. Nobody would go to aviation authorities and tell them ‘you are discriminating against Arab Americans.’”
Abraham said the city charter mandates the council to take the health and welfare of residents under its domain, and parks are public property.
“I am not sure how anybody thinks smoking in public places is a good thing,” Abraham added. “Why should we expect smoking to happen where our children play? Parks were designed for recreational activities, not for smoking. It is a bad mix to smoke where our children play and learn and have fun.”
As for the golf course exemption, Abraham said he had thought incorrectly that golf courses do not fall under the definition of parks in the city after asking if the ordinance would be enforced at Camp Dearborn.
“I was mistaken to think golf courses would be excluded,” he said. “If the council believes smoking should be banned at the golf course, so be it, even though I believe the golf course is different because it has an admission fee.”
Ali Jawad, the founder of the Lebanese American Heritage Club (LAHC), condemned the proposal, saying it targets Arab Americans who frequent the parks to smoke hookah outdoors.
Jawad added that burning charcoal from barbecuing is a bigger health concern than hookahs and cigarettes at parks.
“Without the Arab American community, Dearborn would have been an extension of the devastation in Detroit,” he said. “We have given to this city like it has given to us. The city council does not respect us. This is clear discrimination. Certain council members do not want to see people with hijabs smoking at the park. It is a low blow to the community.”
Jawad said he is not a smoker, and he urges his children to refrain from smoking, but added that it shouldn’t be the city’s job to outlaw smoking in open areas.
He called on community leaders and civil rights organizations to stand against the resolution, adding that the ban might be challenged in court.
Comedian and law professor Amer Zahr said the ordinance is a part of the “de-Arabification” of Dearborn.
“We are so successful that it hurts certain people,” he said. “Who will be hurt by a hookah that smokes a bit of vapor into the sky at a park? They have been smoking cigars at golf courses forever. Now that we are smoking hookah at the park, they want to ban smoking.”
Zahr added that if White people had been smoking hookah at the park, it would not have been a problem.
“It is amazing how when Arabs want to do something, they find a way to make it illegal,” Zahr continued in a frustrated tone. “Arabs like to sit in their garages; boom, they made it illegal. Arabs like to open hookah places; boom, they passed a moratorium on hookah bars. We should start eating our falafel and shawarma sandwiches in private, because that s–t will be illegal, too.”
He said the council has passed some blatantly racist resolutions that target the Arab community, but because four council members are of Arab descent, residents are reluctant to call out the bigotry.
“Maybe when we get some Arabs on the council who are not afraid of being Arab, laws like that won’t pass,” Zahr said.
Banning smoking in parks is the latest in a wave of ordinances tightening residential and business regulations in Dearborn. The City Council banned turning garages into living spaces early last year. It passed and repealed an ordinance to limit building permits to one year, which turned to be in contradiction with state law. Last year, the council outlawed playing sports outdoors past 10 p.m.
However, not all voices of the community reject the proposed smoking ban.
“People go to the parks to smell the fresh air and not be poisoned by second hand smoke,” commented a resident on The Arab American News Facebook page.
Community activist Jacklin Zeidan said defending hookah smoking should not be a cultural issue.
“I am frustrated at the fact that we got into the point where we are defining our Arab culture with the hookah,” she said. “The hookah is not our culture or the only thing that defines us. There is more to our culture than the hookah.”
As for the ordinance, Zeidan said it is “a bit of an overreach.” She called for designating areas for smokers at the parks.
Council President Susan Dabaja said she advocated for a compromise that would allow smoking in certain spaces at the park, but she could not garner enough support to amend the proposal.
Amendments and ordinances pass with a simple majority of four in the seven-member council.
She added that she talked to residents during the study sessions that discussed the ordinance. She said some supported the ban, some didn’t, and some wanted a compromise.
She added that residents have until July 21 to give the council their opinions.
Abraham said he had suggested a different compromise, one Dabaja was not enthusiastic about. He said he had recommended treating smoking like alcohol, where groups could request a permit from the Recreation and Parks Department to smoke at picnics or special events.
According to Abraham, designating smoking spots away from the playing area would prove problematic to enforce.
Councilman Mike Sareini said he will vote against a total ban on smoking at parks, especially if it exempts golf courses.
Sareini said he had questioned the constitutionality of the ordinance when it was first proposed and asked the legal department to review it.
He added that after doing his own legal research, he found out that the city can implement a ban, but it cannot target a specific class of people.
Sareini the ordinance is needless, saying it was not backed by data and that the council had not received one complaint about smoking.
“Why are we having this all of a sudden?” he asked.
However, Abraham said the Recreation and Parks Department has received several complaints, on record, about smoking near playing areas at the parks.
Sareini said he would support reasonable restrictions on smoking at parks to protect children.
“I am not pro-smoking,” he said. “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.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not comment on specific legislation, but it recommends eliminating smoking in public to reduce the health risks associated with second-hand smoking.
Brian King, deputy director for research translation at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said the health effects associated with second-hand smoking are dangerous, regardless of where the exposure is occurring.
“There are no safe levels of second-hand smoking, whether it is indoor at a restaurant or outdoor at a park,” King told The Arab American News.
He said smoking releases about 700 chemicals, about 70 of which can cause cancer.
Dr. Nabeel Abraham, a Dearborn resident and the retired director of the Honors Program at Henry Ford Community College (now Henry Ford College), said there are bigger issues with air quality in the city than smoking, calling the ordinance silly.
“The city made a deal with the owners of the major steel plant in town to allow it to pollute our air,” Abraham said. “In fact, Dearborn and Wayne County generally have some of the worst air quality in the country. Instead of fighting real polluters and the state agency that changed its criteria to gave the steel mill a pass on air pollution, the city council and mayor go after smokers in parks. A case of impotence playing tough guy on air quality.”
Dearborn’s Southend is home to some of the worst air polluters in the state. As a part of a tax deal, the city of Dearborn received $8 million from Severstal in 2013, after the steel company was granted a controversial emissions permit by the state. Severstal’s factory in Dearborn was later sold to AK Steel.