New York’s Proposed Smoking Ban in Public Parks: How Far Is Too Far?

Danielle A. Erickson, Staff Writer

            On September 14, 2009, New York City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, announced that he would strive to ban smoking in city parks and beaches.[1]  A few years ago, on March 26, 2003, New York legislators approved and Governor Pataki signed a state-wide smoking ban that took effect July 24, 2003.[2]  This ban forced cigarette smokers outside- banning smoking in offices, train stations, bars and other public places.[3]  The new ban would restrict the areas in which smokers are free to “light up” even further by designating, “1,700 parks and outdoor recreational areas, along with the city’s seven beaches, extending up to 14 miles of shoreline” as smoke free.[4]  When questioned about this new ban, Mr. Farley stated that, “[w]e don’t think it’s too far to say that people shouldn’t be smoking in parks.”[5]  He then went on to say that, “parents shouldn’t have to breathe smoke while standing on the sidelines of their children’s soccer games, and children shouldn’t even have to look at adults smoking.”[6] 

            The proposed ban seeks to expand “smoke free” areas in order to further protect the public from the dangers of second-hand smoke and as a tool to reduce the number of smokers overall.[7]  Supporters look to the success of the 2003 ban, which gained widespread acceptance and is credited for helping to reduce the city’s smoking rate from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 16.9 percent in 2007.[8]  Dr. David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, agrees that second hand smoke is a very real issue and states that “[w]hile undoubtedly some will think this is going too far, 10 years from now, we’ll look back and ask how could it have been otherwise. It’s not only us, but our kids in these parks and beaches.”[9]  Dr. Kessler referred to health department statistics, which reveal that 7,500 city residents die each year as a result of smoking related diseases and that 6.9 percent of adult New Yorker’s smoke.[10]

            But even with the goal of the proposed ban being to protect the health of city residents, is that enough to pass what could easily be seen as legislation that would effectively restrict the rights and freedoms of a class of people referred to as “smokers”?  While the ban championed support from health advocates, and is being promoted by City council Speaker Christine Quinn, it still may require the approval of the City Council.[11]  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is known for his anti-smoking campaigns, was caught off guard by the proposal.[12]  Bloomberg, who seemed to want to soften the impact of the proposal, qualified it by saying that he wanted “to see if smoking in parks has a negative impact on people’s health.”[13]  Additionally, he stated that, “[i]t may not be logistically possible to enforce a ban across thousands of acres, but there may be areas within parks where restricting smoking can protect health.”[14] 

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