NEW YORK – New York City’s parks, beaches and even Times Square will be off-limits to smokers soon under one of the United States’ toughest anti-cigarette laws.
“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,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said after the 36-12 vote Wednesday.
Bloomberg now has 20 days to sign the ban, which will go into effect 90 after the signing.
The smoking ban will cover 1,700 parks and 23 kilometres of public beaches plus boardwalks, marinas and pedestrian plazas like the one in the heart of Times Square.
American 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.
Supporters of the New York ban said exposure to secondhand smoke poses health risks.
“The statistics don’t lie: Secondhand smoke kills,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. “With this bill, all New Yorkers can now breathe easier and breathe cleaner air.”
A law banning smoking in New York City bars and restaurants went into effect in 2003.
Toronto has gradually banned public smoking over the last decade: Smoking was banned in workplaces in 1999, in all restaurants in 2001 and in bars in 2004.
New York City councilwoman Karen Koslowitz voted for the latest ban despite her ambivalence about earlier anti-smoking measures that forced her outdoors in bad weather when she was a smoker.
“My grandson used to tell me, ‘Grandma, you’re going to die,’” Koslowitz, now a nonsmoking legislator, said in announcing her vote.
Outside, the wet, raw winter weather didn’t seem to bother Cal Johnson as he strolled through the park in front of City Hall, puffing on a cigarette.
“I guess I’ll have to stop smoking in this park,” said the 68-year-old retired Wall Street analyst when he was told of the anti-smoking vote.
However, “in principle, I support this ban on smoking — even though I’m a smoker,” said Johnson, adding he’ll smoke on a nearby street where he lives once the new law kicks in.
The expanded smoking ban will give the city’s Parks Department the power to slap violators with quality-of-life summonses, which are tickets for minor offences like begging or public urination that typically carry fines of under $100.
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.
Smokers’-rights groups held protests against the ban after city officials announced last fall that they were pursuing it. Councilman Erik Dilan called the ban “an infringement on the rights of people.”