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City Council passes smoking ban near playgrounds, athletic fields

Smoking near a playground, swimming pool or ball field in Baltimore could bring a fine of up to $500 under a ban the City Council approved Monday.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is expected to sign the legislation, which would make Baltimore the latest local government to ban lighting up near places where children play. The ban would not apply to all of the city's parkland, but would prohibit smoking within 50 feet of recreational areas, such as a schoolyard, baseball diamond or basketball court.

Rawlings-Blake supports the measure as "a common-sense piece of legislation that will make our city much healthier, particularly for Baltimore's children," said Kevin Harris, a mayoral spokesman.

The bill's sponsor, City Councilman William H. Cole IV, said he hopes the legislation can lead to a change in behavior. He said he introduced the legislation after a constituent asked him to take action. "This is the type of thing that helps prevent illnesses in children, and that's something we should be promoting," Cole said.

In a letter to the council, the Baltimore Police Department pledged its support for the legislation.

"Although these regulations can be enforced by park rangers and code enforcement, the department stands willing to assist in the overall enforcement responsibilities," wrote James H. Green, the Police Department's director of government affairs.

As many as 900 communities across the country have passed similar laws, including several jurisdictions in Maryland.

In February, Baltimore County banned smoking near playgrounds, dog parks and athletic fields and within 30 feet of recreational buildings. Violators in the county face a $50 fine.

Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties also have imposed bans. Smoking also is banned at M&T; Bank Stadium and Oriole Park.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said restricting smoking near children is an important public health issue.

"The great outdoors is one thing, but the great outdoors where children play and other people are pursuing recreational activities — that needs to be protected from secondhand smoke," Clarke said.

In other business, the City Council postponed a vote on legislation that would stop employers from asking job applicants if they have a criminal record until a conditional job offer has been extended. The so-called "Ban the Box" legislation was put on hold while the bill's sponsor, Councilman Nick Mosby, drafts an amendment to the bill.

Baltimore Sun reporter Brandi Bottalico contributed to this article.

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