Has NYC Gone Too Far By Banning Smoking In Parks?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The smokers of New York huddle in phone booths, hurry down cold streets and hover at office-building doorways during breaks, puffs of smoke giving them away.

They are an endangered breed. Their numbers shrinking through loss of habitat, come summer they will have even fewer places to light up as a ban on smoking in parks, beaches and public plazas goes into effect — including Central Park and swaths of tourist-packed Times Square.

Smokers have yielded as places to puff have diminished over the years, but many of them and even some nonsmokers are saying the city has gone too far this time. Health experts disagree on the hazards of a whiff of smoke outdoors, and critics argue cigarette smoke is just one of many nuisances to contend with in a crowded city. They also question whether the city is trampling on civil liberties.

“I think they’re getting too personal,” said Monica Rodriguez, smoking a Newport at a phone booth near a pedestrian plaza south of Times Square. “I don’t think it’s OK. They’re taking away everyone’s privileges.”

Even Whoopi Goldberg spoke out against the ban on national television, noting shortly after the City Council approved the ban that inhaling exhaust fumes from the city’s fleet of taxis and buses isn’t exactly healthy, either.

“There should be a designated place, and I’m tired of being treated like some damn criminal,” said the co-host of ABC’s “The View” during the show’s Feb. 3 broadcast. “If they’re really worried about the smell in the air, give us electric buses, give us electric cars, and then I’ll understand.”

The city health commissioner, Thomas A. Farley, said the ban is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable, such as asthma sufferers who are susceptible to respiratory attacks from exposure to secondhand smoke; children who might pick up smoking after seeing adults with lit cigarettes. It’s also meant to reduce litter.

But most of all, he said, it was about ensuring that the city’s 14 miles of beach and more than 1,000 parks were free of the nuisance and open to all.

“Parks and beaches are special places that anybody should enjoy,” he told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

The City Council approved the bill Feb. 2; the mayor has 20 days to sign it. A separate bill that would have set aside smoking areas in parks did not pass.

Those who break the law could face fines of $50 per violation. But instead of active enforcement, the city will rely on signs and social pressure, said Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg.

“We expect that this will be primarily self-enforcing,” she said. “There is a lot of public support.”

She pointed to a 2009 Zogby poll commissioned by the New York City Coalition for a Smoke-Free City that surveyed 1,002 residents over landline phones and showed that 65 percent supported a smoking ban in parks and beaches.

The measure continues a nearly decade-long effort under the mayor, a smoker-turned-anti-tobacco crusader, to reduce smoking through public policy.

The cornerstone of his administration’s strategy has been an indoor smoking ban in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. In 2010, the city issued 85 violations to bars and clubs that flouted the ban, the Health Department said.

The city has also tried to snuff out smoking by raising taxes on cigarettes, helping the price of a pack soar to $11 or more; through a public education campaign that has featured grisly images of diseased lungs; and by offering free nicotine patch kits for smokers to help them quit.

The Health Department argues that its tobacco-control strategy saved an estimated 6,300 lives between 2002 and 2009, mostly from a reduction in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. The smoking rate dropped 27 percent during the same period.

But the department says smoking continues to be the city’s leading cause of preventable death. A city study published in 2009 found that residents are exposed to more secondhand smoke than the national average, he said.

The hazards of secondhand smoke are well-documented. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level of exposure. But how secondhand smoke contributes to environmental hazards outdoors is an emerging area of study.

Dr. Michael Siegel, an expert on the public health effects of smoking who testified in support of the city’s indoor smoking ban, said science may not support the idea of smoke-free beaches and parks.

“I disagree that there is a scientific basis for banning smoking in wide open outdoor spaces where people can easily avoid exposure,” said Siegel, who works in Boston, where the City Council is proposing a similar ban. “Some of the health groups have been exaggerating the evidence.”

In one of the few published studies on outdoor tobacco smoke, scientists at Stanford University said in a 2007 paper that smoking outdoors might be considered a “hazard” or “nuisance,” including when “eating dinner with a smoker at a sidewalk cafe, sitting next to a smoker on a park bench, or standing near a smoker outside a building.”

“If one is upwind from a smoker, levels most likely will be negligible,” the authors wrote.

With such strict bans, the tobacco-control movement may be in danger of losing its credibility, Siegel said.

“The public is going to just think of us as these zealots who want to ban smoking everywhere,” he said. “It’s going to make it even harder to pass legitimate smoking regulations in states that don’t currently have them.”

The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation counted more than 450 municipalities with policies of smoke-free parks and more than 200 with smokeless beaches, including Los Angeles.

And there are signs that anti-smoking ordinances could get tougher in the future, with some communities extending bans into private homes, especially apartment buildings where secondhand smoke can permeate into other units. In New York City, especially during the summer, places like Times Square and Central Park get packed with humanity, making exposure to secondhand smoke a distinct possibility.

On a recent winter day in Bryant Park, in midtown Manhattan, a few hardy souls braving the cold gave the ban a mixed review.

Katie Geba, 19, said a smoke-free park would be a blessing.

“I don’t like the smell of it,” said the college student, reading a book at a table in a patch of sunlight. “At the same time, (the ban) infringes on your right to do what you want to do.”

Monika Solich, 31, of Queens, said she could understand banning smoking in enclosed spaces like bars and restaurants.

“But this is an open space,” she said, incredulous, as she sat at a table, smoking a Marlboro and sipping coffee.

“I mean, what’s next? Ridiculous. Where are they going to ban next?” she said. “There should at least be an area for smokers where we can smoke.”

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


One Comment

  1. U92 says:

    After reading the comments of the pro-smokers here, one thing has become clear to me.

    All of you who think this ban is a bad idea are blaming the wrong person. If you want to know who really is to blame, just take a good long look in a mirror.

    1. CyZane says:

      Oh, something like the battered woman who has noone to blame but herself for getting beaten up? Yeah sure…..

  2. segweg says:

    If smoking is so bad for the public why is it still legal? Here’s my message to Bloomberg, if you sell something legally then the buyer has the right to use it. If you really care about the health of smokers and non-smokers make it illegal and create detox centers.This is a very extremely addicting habit. It has been compared to being addicted to Heroine. What I see is a money hungry mogul wanting to have both ends of the stick. It’s that simple, sell the cigarettes, raise the cost sky high (addicts will pay anything) and at the same time show some fake concern by banning smoking from every place imaginable.

    1. U92 says:

      If driving on sidewalks is so bad, why is driving still legal? If you can legally drive a car, you should be allowed to drive it anywhere. If you really care about pedestrian safety, make using public transit mandatory and ban cars. etc. etc. etc.

  3. Barre Flynn says:

    Some things need to be left to private sector regulation or self regulation in the belief that we don’t need to be treated like children by a bigger brother. How regulated do we need to be.?

  4. floyd bannister says:

    we should ban smoking everywhere in the state of New York. If you want to smoke go to New Jersey.

  5. CyZane says:

    Litter you say? Let’s have a look at litter in New York beaches http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cb81s6Dvohs

    As for the health issues, how can any intelligent person remotely worry about that? It takes some 20 years for a heavy smoker to maybe develop smoking related diseases. How long does it take for someone breathing in whiffs of thousands of times diluted second hand smoke outdoors? 1000, 2000, 10000 years? Hardly what I would call ”premature death” LOL.

    Smoking bans indoors or outdoors have absolutely nothing to do with non-smokers’ health and everything to do with forcing smokers to quit preferrably using pharmaceuticall products such as the killer drug Chantix and the virtually useless nicotine replacement therapies. What better business partnership between governments who collect taxes, the pharmaceutical industry that profits from the repeat sales of ineffective products and anti-smoking activists who profit from the grants of both?

  6. hired goon says:

    Bloomberg did a very clever thing here.

    First, look at the anger bouncing back & forth along this thread.

    Then, he says police will not be enforcing this law. Instead, he expects social pressure will enforce the ban. So picture the anti-smoking nazi patrols coming up to a group of smokers who believe in their rights to smoke outdoors. You can bet there will be trouble. Yeah, we’ll put out our smokes – right on your face.

    Bloomberg is intentionally pitting New Yorkers against each other – knowing full well this will lead to violent encounters. This is all by design.

    1. U92 says:

      Thank you for demonstrating more aptly than I ever could why it is necessary to legislation common sense and courtesy. If smokers had either voluntarily, there would be no need for legislation.

  7. katk says:

    come to Manhattan Beach this Summer Bloomie- I DARE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Just try to take our smokes..which thanks to you we now buy from overseas ank skip ALL NY taxes..from our hands..we will give up our smokes when you give up your cigars or your bank account- NEVER!

  8. bhuightrionzcta says:

    there was time to do but people no more instead they are what now?

  9. l staples says:

    Banning smoking has gone too far. Maybe they should make cigarettes illegal first. But the government will lose a lot of money if they do. They need to make a choice.

  10. NYCWOLF says:

    The government is telling us what we can eat, and drink. Now they want to control smoking. What will be next?

  11. Glenn says:

    I do not smoke, but what about setting aside an area within the parks where smokers can light up? Or is this too simple of a solution?

  12. anna says:

    awww poor little smokers are maaad. BOO HOO.
    Too bad..hurry up and keep smoking..you’re killing yourselves off anyways 🙂

    1. danny P. says:

      Agree 100%!!

    2. Tanya says:

      you are going to die one day any way. as sure as you took your first breath you will take your last. So, be sure to it’s not near a smoker- could probably save you fso that you can take a few more breaths to be the jugdemental idiot you are. So keep on Breathing…until you don’t.

      1. U_029 says:

        Tanya, speaking of judgemental idiots – have you looked in a mirror lately?

    3. U92 says:

      Thumbs up to this one!

    4. U92 says:

      Thumbs up to anna’s comment!

  13. Rick smith says:

    Dear bloomberg, u r a rino (republican in name only) that has to be the most liberal thing youve ever done. People have rights to smoke no matter how bad it is for you. People have rights in this country amd you cant take them away.

    1. badman says:

      Bloomberg’s not a Republican. He’s been an Independent since 2007. This is the kind of informed, intelligent debate you’d expect from someone stupid enough to smoke tobacco.

      1. Rick smith says:

        I dont smoke its discausting on bloombergs first term he was elected as a republican and puts a bad name on us conservative republicans thats why he is a rino

    2. U92 says:

      Rick smith – Check your facts. The right to smoke has NOT been taken away. You just can’t inflict it on others any more. Yes, smokers now have to behave like the adults they always claim to be and take personal responsibility for ensuring that their personal choices remain personal.

      Your argument is akin to saying that our right to urinate has been taken away because we cannot do it in public and have to use a toilet.

  14. zENAKu says:


  15. 1608 says:

    Stay tuned:

    N.Y. No longer sells cigarettes. 2013

  16. dthundr says:

    You dummies. It’s not the smoke. It’s the LITTER. The reason why smoking has been banned in public parks all over the country is because the stupid smokers can’t throw their butts and used cig packs in a simple garbage can. I hate walking through parks and looking down at cigarette butts and empty packs.

  17. sandi says:

    This is getting ridiculous already!! We all know that smoking is bad…but this has absolutely nothing to do with that….it has EVERYTHING to do with our rights as citizens. I am an ex-smoker….I quit almost 2 years ago but the mayor is taking away people’s rights…..what’s next? not letting the smokers smoke in their cars, or in their houses or in front of their house. Or not not letting someone have a few drinks in their house. Alcohol is just as bad as smoking….maybe worse. A person can smoke a whole pack of cigs and go out and drive a car but someone who has a few drinks and gets behind the wheel will be driving drunk. Anyhow, my complaint isn’t about whether cigs or alcohol is good or bad but about Bloomberg taking away our rights….because I got news for you, it will not stop with the cigarettes….it will be something else after this….he is acting like a dictator!!!

    1. U92 says:

      Sandi, Given that smokers have been trampling over everyone else’s rights for decades, your argument shows nothing more than that you are unclear on the concept. What smokers do to themselves, as long as they pay for the consequences out of their own pocket, is their business. When they affect others, it becomes other people’s business, whether smokers like it or not. And it will be treated accordingly.

      Smokers who think that smoking is their business alone should try something new: keeping it that way. Remove the reasons the bans exist and the bans will stop.

  18. philip Morris says:

    I have a right to smoke.

  19. giemma says:

    no guns, no smoke, no partying, no debates. Soon no clothes, no speaking, no defense and a conga line into the ovens. Good luck to protesters around the world especially those in Wisconsin!

  20. denis says:

    lets ban cellphones on sidewalks, tired of those a-holes who suddenly stop in front of me.

  21. Bernie Sanders says:

    ok now i am annoyed you wanna fight lets do it .. + People annoy me .. when they take up 2 seats on a bus or train and there fat is hanging all over you ,, or the people who dont bathe and smell on the trains , or the homless got a dollar got a quater everywhere you go … EVERYONE IS ANNOYING IN THERE OWN WAY ~ This is nuts I never seen anything like it .. car fumes can kill you too and plant smoke and airplane fumes and trucks and CITY BUSSESAND TRAINS .. STOP THE MADDNESS >>>> I SAY WE START PROTESTING LIKE OTHER COUNTRIES BUT NO WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT >> IT DONE NY IS FINISHED AND NOT THE MOST EXCITING CITY ANYMORE EITHER ~ ……stick a fork in the big apple its turning into the sour apple now !

  22. Bernie Sanders says:

    i am paying 13 bucks for a pack i am smoking where i want ..

    1. Alan says:

      Whatever portion of the $13 is tax does not cover smoking’s cost to society, which non-smokers like me have to pay for. You should probably be paying around $20 if you want to pay your fair share. If I find you smoking in the park, you’ll be talking to a police officer.

      1. U92 says:

        Alan, thumbs up!

Comments are closed.

More From CBS New York

Get Our Morning Briefs

Watch & Listen LIVE