NYC Bans Smoking in Parks, Beaches and Pedestrian Plazas

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New York’s City Council voted last week to pass a law extending the city’s smoking ban to parks, beaches and public plazas where pedestrians congregate like in Times Square and Union Square.

“This summer, New Yorkers who go to our parks and beaches for some fresh air and fun will be able to breathe even cleaner air and sit on a beach not littered with cigarette butts,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has made improving New Yorkers’ health a key goal during his tenure as mayor, in a statement after the 36-12 vote.

The Associated Press reported:

The smoking ban will cover 1,700 parks and 14 miles of public beaches plus boardwalks, marinas and pedestrian plazas like the one in the heart of Times Square. The ban goes into effect 90 days after Bloomberg signs the bill; the mayor has 20 days to do it.

States and cities from Maine to California have banned smoking in public parks and beaches, but New York is pursuing one of the widest-reaching urban bans. Smoking is also prohibited in Los Angeles city parks and in Chicago parks with playgrounds.

The measure, which was first introduced last September, is designed to reduce secondhand smoke exposure, cut down on litter in public places and improve health and quality of life generally.

The smoking ban will be enforced by the Parks Department, which will have the authority to dole out quality-of-life summonses to offenders; such tickets usually carry a maximum $100 penalty and cover municipal offenses like panhandling, open container violations and public urination. As the AP reported:

However, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the bill’s prime sponsor, said the ban isn’t intended to be a legally “punitive program.” She said the city expects the law will be primarily self-enforced, with residents warning anyone who lights a cigarette in a park or on a beach that it’s illegal. Police won’t be responsible for enforcing it, she said.

Nevertheless, opponents of the law criticized it as setting a dangerous precedent and said it infringes on individual liberties. “Once we pass this, we will next be banning smoking on sidewalks, and then in the cars of people who are driving minors and then in the homes,” Councilman Daniel J. Halloran III of Queens told the New York Times.