No More Outdoor Smoking in New York City?

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Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

New York City’s government proposed legislation yesterday to ban smoking in city parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas like Times Square and Rockefeller Center. Despite rumors, the ban would not extend to city streets.

“The point of this bill isn’t ‘gotcha,”‘ City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told ABC News. “Our goal is not to get a gentleman or a lady who’s walking across the street.”

New York wouldn’t be the first city to approve such an ordinance. The city council of Calabasas, Calif., has a law that smokers may not light up anywhere that nonsmokers congregate, inclusive of city streets and apartment complex courtyards.

The NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment posted a video response to the proposed ban on YouTube, arguing that: “It’s absurd to point a fearful finger at smoking OUTDOORS while sitting under the carcinogenic sun.”

While it’s true that we are surrounded by cancer-causing agents that extend far beyond secondhand smoke, research consistently shows that smoking bans lower cancer rates and makes a measurable difference.

A study of bars and restaurants before and after a smoking ban was instituted in Guatemala, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research, found that the ban reduced nicotine levels in bars by 87% within just six months.

And a public smoking ban proposed England could reduce lung cancer rates by 20%, according to an analysis by Cancer Research UK. This would be achieved through a combination of smoking cessation and reduced exposure to secondhand smoke, which the agency reports increases a nonsmoker’s risk of lung cancer by 19%.

Of course, both of these studies measured changes to enclosed spaces like bars, offices and restaurants — places where smoking is already banned in the New York City. Whether smoke-free parks and plazas could have any effect on cancer rates remains to be seen.

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