Thursday, February 10, 2011

Council Extends Smoking Ban to Public Parks, Plazas and Beaches

By Eric Yun
In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the Smoke Free Air Act, which prohibited smoking in nearly all public indoor areas in the city. Last week, the City Council amended the legislation to include the city’s parks, beaches and other public places to the no-smoking list.

The bill passed the Council by a 36-12 vote and is expected to be signed into law by Bloomberg meaning it will go into law in 90 days. The bill’s supporters said this will pre-vent litter in parks and beaches and prevent exposure to secondhand smoke.

Under the new legislation, smoking would be prohibited at parks, beaches, pools, recreation centers and all buildings and facilities operated by the Parks Department. It also extends to the city Department of Transportation’s pedestrian plazas.

Sidewalks immediately ad- joining parks, squares and public places, pedestrian routes that are adjacent to vehicular traffic and parking lots are exempted from the ban. “Recent studies, and studies over the years, have shown that secondhand smoke can have a harmful impact,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “Public smoking is not just a risk people take on themselves, it is a risk that impacts everyone around them. This new law will make sure that smoking is prohibited in public parks and beaches, areas where our youngest New Yorkers gather.”

Critics, however, said the bill was too intrusive and impinged on civil liberties. “While I understand the health concerns that prompted the introduction of this bill, it is nothing more than another example of gov- ernment intruding into the private lives of New Yorkers,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Whether we like it or not smokers pay taxes and they have rights too. We need to be mindful of the fact that we’re infringing on the rights and freedoms of everyday residents who are not breaking the law.”

The Parks Department is responsible for enforcement and can issue fines of $50.

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