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City Council Debates Smoking Ban

LAWTON, Okla_Smokers can light up in Lawton city parks again... kind of.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, the council debated a proposal to remove the ban on smoking in parks. City leaders cited a new opinion by the State Attorney General that states city ordinances cannot be stricter than state law, and since the state does not ban smoking in city parks, Lawton can't either.

After a heated discussion, the council voted to approve the new ordinance by a 4-3 vote. But a new ordinance requires at least 5 votes to pass. So, the effect is, the ordinance stays on the books, but it won't be enforced.

Council members Dr. Rosemary Bellino-Hall and Jay Burk spoke out passionately in favor of keeping the ban in place, even if it means risking fines or lawsuits.

Both council members echo a powerful message being spread by a growing number in our community that says we must do what's best for our children and for our health.

"We stand up for what's right. We stand up for our kids, we stand up for our community and they need to get their act right in the state capitol."

That was the message Councilman Burk so passionately conveyed at the council meeting and it's a message that Comanche County Tobacco Prevention Director Sandy Foster has been working to spread near and far.

"It's not about telling an adult that you can't smoke, it's about where they choose to use that and the fact that our parks are made for healthy activities," said Foster.

Together with her organization, Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), along with several other organizations in the community, she was able to get the ban that has been in effect for the past two year in place. And she said to see that ban taken away is heartbreaking.

"I'm disappointed, I'm very disappointed, and certainly very sad about how that's going to affect our kids, and how it'll affect just the parks," said Foster.

By keeping the ban in place, the city would be in violation of the law. Foster said that law is a direct result of the amount of pull American tobacco companies have with our government.

"There are a lot of tobacco lobbyists that are at the state level, and they work very hard to make sure that we're not able to do something that will basically impact their bottom line," Foster said.

In spite of the challenges stacked against her, Foster said she intends to forge ahead.

"We're not giving up. And I don't think anyone else is either."

This issue is a hot topic for lawmakers in session right now.

One bill has already been defeated which would have restored local rights for individual cities. But bringing new hope, already this week a new one was approved in committee that would give towns the right to have tobacco and/or smoke free ordinances.

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